Rough Edges

Jun 16, 2023 by Colleen C Orchanian

I used to say that my dad had some rough edges. Don’t get me wrong, he loved God and served him well for many, many years. But he was still a little rough around the edges. If someone asked him to do something that he thought they should not have asked, he would tell me with annoyance, Why do they need that? I’m not going to do that. Of course, later he would go ahead and do whatever he was asked. It was like the story Jesus told about the two sons. The father asks each of them to do something. One son says he will do it but doesn’t, and the other son says he won’t do it but actually does it anyway. Dad was the second son. He often said what he thought, sometimes before thinking about it. That’s why I say he was a little rough around the edges.

I think I can confidently say that most of us are rough around the edges. We live in a broken world, and we have our own unique brokenness that keeps us from being perfect, from being like Jesus. We have our pet peeves, our triggers, our hot buttons. These are the things that bring out the worst in us. They shine a spotlight on our rough edges. Honestly, I don’t want a spotlight shining on my rough edges. I would like them to stay in the dark so people can’t see them. But I’m not perfect and I don’t live in a perfect world, so my rough edges will sometimes be visible for the whole world to see – or at least those people in my orbit.

We all have rough edges. In my dad’s last year of life, his rough edges got smoothed out a lot. He didn’t get irritated as easily. He was less quick to speak sharply to someone or to push them too far. He knew he was dying and as he prepared, he grew closer to God. He grew in holiness, in charity, in patience, and in humility. He was showered with love from so many different directions, and he was grateful for that. It touched him very deeply and healed many of the wounds that caused those rough edges.

Sometimes, when our mortality is right before our eyes, we get serious about dealing with our rough edges. Of course, it can go in the other direction, but if you are a person of faith, chances are there is healing grace being poured into your life during those times of suffering. But we don’t have to wait for a terminal diagnosis to address our rough edges. We can do that right now with four simple steps:

Step 1: Know yourself. We begin by identifying our rough edges. This takes self-knowledge, which can be hard to come by. I have to be able to see myself as I really am, not as I want to be or as others have told me I am. I want to think that I am always loving and patient and doing God’s will. That is my intention, sincerely. When I am not, I have a good reason for it. I can excuse my behavior that isn’t loving, or patient, or does not follow God’s will. So if I snapped at someone because I haven’t slept in three days, that may explain my behavior but doesn’t excuse it. It still reveals a rough edge of rudeness. I need to be honest with myself about my faults so that I can see my rough edges as they really are. That is the only way to get rid of them.

And I want to get rid of my rough edges because I’m supposed to desire holiness. I am supposed to be like Jesus. I have to recognize these faults for what they are. Then I can begin to remove them, to smooth out the rough edges.

Maybe you don’t know your own rough edges. It’s possible that you don’t have any, but maybe you are just blind to them. Ask the people who know you the best – those who you feel most comfortable around. They might be able to give you some insight.

One obstacle to knowing ourselves is if my friends always tell me what I want to hear. We can believe our own press. I heard a post-game interview with football coach Nick Saban. The team had won a game they were supposed to lose. When asked about it, Saban said to the press, “All that stuff you write about how good we are and all that stuff they hear on ESPN. It’s like taking poison – like rat poison. The rat poison you put out this week was yummy.” We can’t believe our own press if all we get is praise.

When you recognize your own rough edges, know that you are in good company. Some of the greatest saints had rough edges. Saint Nicholas slapped the heretic Arius across the face. St. Peter was a hothead, acting before he spoke. He even cut off the ear of one of the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus. James and John were worried about who would sit at the right and left hand of Jesus – and this just after Jesus says he will be killed. Talk about bad timing! Noah got drunk. Moses got so mad that he broke the tablets written by God. All of these people had rough edges.

Step 2: Bring your rough edges to God in humble prayer. Humility is key. We acknowledge our faults, our rough edges, our weaknesses. We say, "God, I’m a mess. I can’t be what you want me to be, what you call me to be. Look at how easily I fall into this same behavior – over and over again." It’s like Paul wrote in Romans 7:15 “I do what I don’t want to do and don’t do what I want to do.” And God responds – in the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:26: "For man it is impossible. But all things are possible with God." So we come to God, humbly asking for His grace to smooth our rough edges because we cannot do it alone.

Step 3: Take action. This means we do something to change. If you tend to speak before you think, then one action might be to count to five before you respond. I have noticed with many priests that when I ask them a question, they pause a while before answering. I am not like that. I am more like someone on a game show who needs to be the first to answer. I need to give others a chance to talk and not assume that I have to fill every empty moment with words. That’s the kind of action I’m talking about. It’s something simple. Not easy to do, but very simple.

Step 4: Check progress. It is possible that the changes you make will be noticeable to others, and that’s great! Maybe someone will say something about the change. If they do, that’s a blessing. But maybe you won’t hear anything specific, but you notice your conversations are less stressful or you have more peace or something else. Whatever you are working on – whatever rough edge you’re trying to smooth out, pay attention to how well you are doing. Congratulate yourself. Thank God for the grace to change.

When you feel like you have smoothed out one of your rough edges, find another. There is always something we can do to grow in holiness, and that should be our goal in life. That is what delights our Lord.

Now for a caution: Don’t let the devil bring you down in this process. There will always be a spiritual battle for your rough edges. Satan’s first strategy is to keep you blind to your faults: You never lose your temper, and if you do it’s for a good reason. You never mislead someone, but if you do it’s for a good reason. You never think badly of another person, but if you do it’s justified. Those are all ways that the devil blinds you to your own faults.

If that doesn’t work, he might try to discourage you, and you start beating yourself up because of those faults. You can wallow in self-criticism. I am such a terrible person. Why do I even bother? What good is it to try when I know I will fail? You actually become very inwardly focused, and this is not good for spiritual growth. Our focus should always be on God. Focusing on my own hot mess of a life doesn’t help me smooth out the rough edges.

A third spiritual attack is to downplay the fault. It’s really not that bad. Lots of people do lots worse things than this. It’s not like you murdered someone, you were just a little rude. Every time we do that, we lower the bar just a little bit. But Jesus didn’t do that. He raised the bar. He said, "You have heard it said thou shalt not kill, but I say when you speak harshly to another you have committed murder." So Jesus tells us not to minimize our rough edges. Acknowledge them. Guilty as charged.

To sum it up, we all have rough edges, and we should desire to smooth them out. It isn’t really that hard if we allow God to work in and through us. This is where I take a lesson from my Dad and yield to God's movement in my life. Maybe I, too, can smooth out some of my rough edges.

Here are some questions bring to prayer about your rough edges:

1. What rough edges have been smoothed out in me and how? Thank God for that!

2. What rough edge is still a problem? What one thing can I do to remove that rough edge and grow in holiness?