How to Salvage a Mess

My daughter Abby took up knitting not too long ago...again. I suppose the weather was chilly and some good movie must have been coming on TV because she suddenly decided she needed some yarn and knitting needles. And so with a skein of dark green yarn and fresh knitting needles she clicked away through the movie, blissfully contented.

Until she looked up from her movie and realized her knitting had gone astray. Suddenly her scarf, which started out with 27 stitches, now had more like 30-something stitches. As she had knitted aimlessly along she had mistakenly added stitches and the scarf was taking on a warped shape.

If we're not careful, our lives can take on a similarly warped appearance. With one careless stitch after another we can either skip a crucial step or add a mistaken one. And only when we take the time to look up do we notice how far off the desired pattern we have wandered.

Such was the case with the people of Israel during the time of the judges. That's why throughout the book of Judges you'll read things like "And there was no king in Israel in those days, so the people did what was right in their own eyes" or, worse yet, "Every man did what was right in his own eyes." The people simply cycled in and out of mayhem for several hundred years, looking up occasionally to notice that they were desperately off track and only then crying out for help.

Unfortunately for the people of Israel they had a smattering of judges, rulers as it were, who tried to help matters but, as time went on, these judges became less and less effective. They didn't seem to know what they were doing either. That's pretty much the problem Abby ran into when she would take her misshapen scarf to me and cry "Help!" I don't knit. Beyond sympathizing with her mess I couldn't offer much help.

But when Abby's Nana visited a few weeks later, she not only helped Abby figure out where she went wrong, but she pulled Abby's mistakes out one by one and got her back on track. And Abigail, having learned her lessons well, has stayed on track with that scarf ever since. Yes, she's still knitting it. My bet is she'll finish it sometime next winter. But the good news is that it now has a nice shape with no skipped or added stitches. And she's on her way to knitting a lovely scarf.

My friend who is a Christian counselor tells me that by the time most of her clients come to see her with their troubles--whether they are problems with their marriage, parenting issues, or addictions--they have usually "knitted" themselves a nice little mess. In other words, they don't come to her with one or two problems, but a whole "wad" full of messy issues. I read in a magazine article that most couples don't seek marriage counseling until seven years after their problems began...and that's seven years too late. Imagine all the wrong turns they've made, all the dropped stitches.

I've had a mess or two in my life. My bet is that you have too. And like me you've probably cried out to God to wave His almighty hand over your mess and fix it...quick! Did He? Probably not. He can, but He usually doesn't, does He?

In my experience, as in the experience of the Israelites in the book of Judges, there is usually a little work involved in getting things back in place. I may have to go to battle. I may have to take a step of faith. I may have to right a wrong, or two or seven. It takes time, work, perseverance, and self-examination. Yuck.

When Abby's Nana suggested she rip out rows and rows of her knitting in order to get her scarf back on track, the idea sounded daunting and plumb miserable to Abby at first. But with her personal Master Knitter at her side, Abby was encouraged to pull out the mistakes she had made and take a fresh go at it. Nana gave her courage to do the only thing that would ultimately work. And so she did it.

If you find your life in any sort of a mess today--whether it be financial, marital, parenting, friendship, career, or moral in nature--the last thing you probably want to hear is that you need to rip out the mistakes you've made over the last few weeks, months or years. You may not even comprehend how you can do that. And, truth be told, in some cases you can't always right the wrongs completely. But you can probably correct more mistakes than you're willing to admit.

Not too long ago I had to get in my car and drive to a couple of houses to apologize for the way I had treated a couple of friends. I was tempted to just brush over my "dropped stitches" and hope no one noticed. My plan was to just act like nothing had happened and hope they would do the same. But something inside me knew that just wouldn't work. I have a holy God who expects holiness out of me too. And, graciously, He promised to be with me every step of the way, helping me to rip out those bad stitches and sew in some new ones.

In the end it was worth it. Quite honestly, I'm not sure my overtures meant that much to the people to whom I apologized. But my obedience, my simple effort of ripping out the old and stitching in the new, means something to me. I can look at that little season of my life and know it holds integrity. Like a knitted scarf with consistent stitches, my life is back on the straight and narrow. Besides, just like Abby wants a Master Knitter like her Nana to admire her scarf and say it is well knitted, I want my life to pass the muster of my God, not just the swift perusal of my peers.

So don't be afraid to rip out stitches, dear friends. Yes, it's painful. But, with the Master's help, you can get back on track if you're willing to do the work.