By Liz Shoop
When I selected an activity for my elementary school students using a ball of yarn, I was not expecting how much I myself would learn in the process.
The idea was to roll the ball from person to person across a circle of seated children. The result was a web, symbolizing the relationships students have formed in their class throughout the year. Each student said something friendly about the person they rolled the yarn to.
Once the little ones left the room, I ended up with a huge tangle of yarn it took hours to unravel. The complex knot was an illustration of relationships among a network of people, whether it is in a work setting, a family, a church or community. The strings, loops and obstacles stand for different individuals, dyads, triads and clumps within a group.
Here are some things I learned in my attempt to find the straight and narrow. The first instinct is to pull and tug. The stress on individuals tightens the intricate mess. I found it helped to loosen and separate on the whole system, making some space amidst the fray, which was counter-intuitive. It’s best to open things up so I can see my way through. Even tension and stress on one string can tighten the whole knot back up into a wad where it’s hard to tell who’s who.
The second insight is, I sometimes feel like the end of the string. I realize I have to travel back through the mess I’ve been through in order to come out. If I try to run away from the knots, the aforementioned tightening occurs. The way out is through contact with others, not avoidance. Some wringing and twisting can be involved. It may benefit me to pause and observe where others have been before I attempt to untangle myself from them.
Finally, if I take shortcuts, it may look like things are getting better, but it’s still a “knot.” At times things have to get worse before they get better, and sometimes I’m just tangled up with myself. In order to get things unraveled, inevitably, I must navigate through the chaotic center of the tangled mess. There is fear of getting lost. But the hard-won freedom and growth is worth it in the end.
Liz Schoop has been a participant in the Leadership in Ministry Workshops. Following six years of experience as a high school counselor, Liz founded LampLight Counseling Ministry at Harrisonburg, VA. This article was originally published in the Leadership in Ministry newsletter (Winter 2010).
The Leadership in Ministry workshops are part of the Center for Lifelong Learning’s Pastoral Excellence Program. Workshops are offered in Atlanta, Boston, Portland, and West Virginia. To find out more, or to register, visit the program listing at the Center for Lifelong Learning programs listing.