There’s a job I want to be done with by the new year. It’s the most painting I have ever done back to back, finishing our built-ins. There are a lot of components. Worse, I was stubborn because I insisted that making them for myself, they had to be rare and different. Hence, I probably doubled my material cost and tripled my word load by making them from solid wood rather than the box-store sheet goods that look perfect and are ready to go… but are sadly, made from MDF. The good thing about wood is that it is light in relationship to its tensile strength. It is a more solid bet because you can fit it together with housing joints, glue and fasteners unlike MDF.
There is a minus however. The bad thing about solid wood, and water based finishes, is that the water makes any imperfection or grain swell up and telegraph through the paint job. It means you will likely sand off the first two coats trying to get a truly level surface. Even then, home shops being what they are, when you spray you will get a few nagging dust nibs like the one in the middle of the picture. The trip to perfect is surprisingly long and hard.
The trip to perfect for human beings is also like this I suspect. Though we pretend to want change, this most often comes in real life from the equal and opposite forces which come against us. Change is a lot of grinding over a long time. Ask any smooth rock by the seashore. All of this makes New Year interesting, because of this whole New Year’s resolution business. And this talk of transformation brings me back to the realities of dealing with paint.
Paint is expensive. Because of this, it is set up to impress, or spectacularly fail. What to believe looking on the labels… high hide-ability, good coverage, even flow, water clean-up, zero VOC’s? But I know that promises right out of the can are seldom realistic. Painting is a process, and a gradual one. You don’t get instant perfect. I only want to know one thing. Is it sand-able? Sand-able is the linch pin which will sell me on a can of paint, because it means I can work with it. It means that when a coat is not perfect, I can push it in that direction if I sand, vacuum and spray again. Moreover, when I sand the paint should powder under the sandpaper. The worst of paints gum up into little balls, or worse the sandpaper catches the surface and mars it. There is nothing worse than paint which is NOT sand-able. It is too stubborn and proud to admit fault, and therefore you just can’t work with it.
No matter their credo, human beings seem to subscribe to a universal notion that over a lifetime we are moving towards something that is better than where we are right now. This stance might be proper ballast for the troubles and faults which like the force of gravity bear us toward the clay. So, like the can of paint, to me the best of human traits is… sand-ability. The ability to grind off the imperfections as we go along, layer by layer. It’s realistic because it is gradual. If you look back over the years, it is likely you have become more patient. It is also likely that this was not a choice as much as a nod to reality. That also explains the grey hair.
When I was a boy, we were taught in church that getting ‘saved’ meant a blinding transformation like the Apostle Paul experienced, which would raise up a new Adam that was instant, shining and perfect. A bit of living will quickly show you that faith is a little more like watching paint dry. Anyone who has witnessed a short-lived religious conversion, or even New Years resolutions, knows that promises on the label can be shallow. Nothing is ever perfect right out of the can. In the fifth century, a monk from Britain named Pelagius, roamed about teaching people that they could be perfect; they just had to dig in and try a little harder. He was famously challenged by Saint Augustine of Hippo who believed that there was a reason for grace, because human life is also fraught with human error. We just can’t get rid of the Old Adam as fast as we would like to. Yes, it is God who saves. Our own efforts can be valiant, but not enough to take final credit.
More realistic, is the understanding that we undergo a process throughout a lifetime after being baptized into faith. That is, we can improve gradually, but in real life it takes a lot of grinding and the forces of duress may not be very fun. It is called the process of sanctification. If you see any old people who are truly approaching sainthood you will know what I am talking about. They can almost glow with goodness. It’s the combination of trying, and understanding that we are not able by ourselves to get to where we need to go.
Saint Paul commented on this in his letter to the Philippians, about pressing on toward a distant goal. I like the way he put it. It sounds realistic to me, and it also inspires me to accept change with some humility and grace. Pressing on with an eye to the long game is the hope that God will someday complete the job he has already begun.
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
Ah, New Years, the most human of comedies, and also the time to buckle down and press on toward the goal. God must truly laugh. We make many promises. I don’t know if Pelagius ever observed new years resolutions, but he fell into the old trap just the same.
I am left with two observations. True change takes time, and we also require some help. I suspect that God has his work cut out for him. Happy New year. Hope you celebrate the changes the new year brings.