I love to work with wood, whether it involves building a shed, a home, a cabinet, or piece of furniture. My father owned a lumber yard, so some of my fondest childhood memories take me back to when I would walk among the stacks of lumber, smelling the various species of wood and noticing their distinctive grain patterns. There were hardwoods and soft woods; rough-cut and finished woods, framing and finish woods. Whether redwood, cedar, pine, or especially walnut, they all have their own very unique qualities.

Every apprentice woodworker eventually learns what a sliver is, how to extract it—and how not to—and that sawdust accumulates as fast as rabbits multiplying on fertility treatments. Sawdust and woodworking go hand-in-hand like swimming and getting wet—you can’t have one without the other. So the inevitable byproduct of my cutting, planning, and sanding wood is usually small mounds of sawdust, which is usually not much of a problem…as long as it stays on the floor, and out of my eye.

Unfortunately, I recently had some sawdust fall into my eye as I was installing a cedar plank overhead. At first it was just a small irritation, but eventually it became quite painful, stuck like a boat on a sandbar despite the river of tears flowing from my eye. Thankfully, after a few hours of pain the the speck finally moved on and my sight returned.

As I thought back on the event I recalled the teaching of Jesus where he used the example of specks and beams in the eye to illustrate how quick we are to point out the sins of others while we fail to see or address our own. The speck in my eye was painful and debilitating, greatly limiting my ability to finish my work at hand. What Jesus taught was that people often walk around with a plank or beam in their eye—an absurd illustration that no one could actually do, and yet it helped to illustrate that people are often more worried about some minor little speck of dust in someone else’s eye! Anyone who has a beam in their eye will never see clearly, and certainly not clearly enough to really see other people’s problems and issues.

Like sawdust in our eyes, we all have things in our lives that limit us and prevent us from seeing clearly. Sometimes we can address the issue on our own, but other times we need others to help us deal with it—to help us “flush out our eyes,” so to speak. Recognizing that we all have junk in our eyes helps us to live with more compassion, tenderness, and grace toward others. Let’s take the time to attend to the specks in our own eyes; then we can see more clearly, so that we are in a position to really help others with the specks and beams in theirs.