Sharpening: A Spiritual Habit for Better Mental Health

Life will blunt your edge. The knocks, the scuffs, the micro-abrasions and who you are gets dulled. Having a daily sharpening practice keeps your mental health having a fine edge.

I was getting frustrated. I was cutting down a tree with my chainsaw, and it was taking forever. The teeth of the chainsaw were blunt.

Not only did it take longer, but it also required more strength from me to push the chainsaw into the wood.  The extra effort required made the cutting more dangerous.

So I put the chainsaw into a vice, got out a small file and quickly gave each tooth on the chain a little grind.

When I went back to cutting the wood the chainsaw just flew through the log.

A dull blade is actually more dangerous to use than one that is sharp. Here’s why: A dull blade requires more pressure to cut, increasing the chance that the knife will slip with great force behind it. A sharp knife “bites” the surface more readily. University of Rochester Medical Centre

Losing your edge

Life can have a wearing down effect. Little comments, some criticisms here and there, losing some sleep, and these stressors can burr your life and make things just so much harder to handle.

The result can be anger, explosions, implosions, depression, anxiety, and trying harder and harder.

You lose your way, and more effort doesn’t make things better.

Imagine your Mental Health is like a knife.  When you’re on your game, focused, achieving and feeling great it’s like your Mental health is sharp.

Like my chainsaw, it’s working perfectly, and wood chips are flying.

One day I was using my chainsaw to cut a Ponga fern down. It was cutting nicely all until it hit something in the middle of the tree. I managed to cut the tree down but right in the middle of the tree was a small stone.

The little stone must fallen into the tree when it was young, and then the tree grew around it.

I wasn’t aware of it being there until I whacked into it.

Our mental health can get bruised and burred by the unexpected.

Sharpening requires us to stop

When I have a blunt chainsaw or a dull knife I have to stop and take incisive action to sharpen the edge.

I want to keep on cutting because in my mind it’s doing the work, it’s productive, but the call of wisdom is to stop and sharpen.

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To sharpen, teach (incisively)

In the Bible, we read that God wanted the people of Israel to have his commandments known in their hearts as well as in their minds.

They were to teach them into the thiking of their children.

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The word ‘recite’ in the original Hebrew is the word shanan’ which means to whet, sharpen.

‘Whet’ is an old English word which means to sharpen. When you hear the phrase ‘To whet (not wet) your appetite,’ it means to sharpen your appetite.

A ‘whetstone’ is a sharpening stone for sharpening your knife.

God was directing the people to have a lifestyle of being sharpened by the nature and character of God.

It takes time and patience for a razor-sharp knife life.

Undivided attention

When I am sharpening the teeth of my chainsaw or the edge of a knife I have to focus in. I concentrate on the angle of the file, the blade, the number of strokes, the amount of pressure I place on the file or the whetstone.

There is an undivided submission of the steel to the abrasive nature of the file or whetstone.

There is a ‘pulling aside’ from doing more to being more.

Our lives can so often be distracted by the urgent and seemingly important that we lose the focus of what brings us closer in heart and mind to the character and nature of God.

How to have your edge sharpened

 1. Recognize you can’t do it
There are three components – the knife, the whetstone, and the one who is working the friction.

Imagine yourself as that knife with its scuffed and burred edge.

It needs someone to take up the knife and apply the friction. You can’t do it yourself, so you pray for God to work the edge to be sharp. This is the role of Spirit (Holy). The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. – Jesus John 14:26

2. Submit to one who is greater
We don’t like the word submit. We want to be in control, have things our way. Yet, when you’re in an operating theatre having heart surgery, you submit yourself to a surgeon who knows more than you.

In the spiritual operating theatre of the heart and mind, you need to submit to the work of God shaping your very existence.

3. Take note of the whetstone of the past. 
What is in that whetstone that bears repeating over and over again against your burrs?
We have thinking tracks. Old belief systems that need repeated exposure to truth. What has been used in the past will most likely be needed the next day.

We are slow in learning and somethings just need to be spoken over and over again into the soul. I would suggest you create your very own Thinking Compass. It’s a small notebook or electronic file where you store items such as affirmations, bible verses, quotes, insights, encouragements. Small reminders of what is true north for you. We can so easily lose our way, and wise travelers have a compass to keep them pointing in the right direction.

4.A daily practice
Form this sharpening practice into something as familiar to your mind as a habit of brushing your teeth.
In the passage above God wanted this sharpening done ‘when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.’
It was to be part of the natural and normal rhythm of life.

5. Share the grind
What you discover in the friction of the edge being against the whetstone may well be of encouragement to another who has lost their edge.
Share the grind. Be part of the ‘and talk about them’ community.

 

Life will blunt your edge. The knocks, the scuffs, the micro-abrasions, and who you are gets dulled. Having a daily sharpening practice keeps your mental health having a fine edge.

Quotes to consider

  • Being is more important than doing, the heart is more important than the mind, and caring together is better than caring alone. Henri Nouwen
  • Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln
  • If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.
  • Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. stephen Covey

Questions to answer

  1. What causes you to ‘lose your edge’?
  2. What little insights, verses, quotes help you to sharpen your thinking?
  3. How can you create a daily sharpening habit in your life?

Further reading

How to Develop a Compass for the Brain

Mental Health is … You Taking Ownership of You

Listening: A Spiritual Habit for Better Mental Health

Barry Pearman

Image: cc Flickr

Barry Pearman

Barry is a writer, coach, and course creator that has a passion for Mental Health and Spiritual Formation.

Contact me here

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