“For we know that in all things, God works together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes.” Romans 8:28 (NIV)
I am a magpie. I love to surround myself with bright, shiny things. Superficially, if I could, I would have all of the beautiful colours and experiences and feelings in my nest and none of the hard things. On a more pragmatic level, however, I know this never works. Any time attempts have been made to that end, the result is a one-dimensional, Polly-Anna, bubblegum, Pleasantville-like experience. It’s hollow and false. It lacks the depth and nuance and richness that comes from hard-won battles, honesty and walking it out, no matter what.
Have you ever looked closely at a woven tapestry? It requires many, many colours and varieties of thread to achieve an overall image. Weavers understand that you cannot choose only your favourite colours or your one preferred medium, and then begin. Though you may intend for a certain colour or tone to be prominent, it takes other colours, light and dark, to truly magnify and highlight the overall pattern. While you may love the silk, gold and silver warp threads, without the necessary weft threads, often made from regular old cotton or linen, the image cannot be created.
There are parts of my life and my story that hold beauty and provide joy in the remembering. Some of my favourite, shiny filaments are my best friend, Marc (who also happens to be my husband), my passionate children, feeling meaningful in my job, the ability to create music, and the spiritual heritage extending down both sides of my family tree. But some fibres in my history feel like they’ve woven an immovable stain or a darkness that I’d rather not revisit. The dark strands are those shadow times when I knew I’d veered from the path intended for me, but couldn’t seem to climb back up from the ditch. The dark strands are the things I never wanted in my story: anxiety, disappointment, heart break, divorce. And then, there are those seasons of ‘non.’ As someone who feels deeply and who is quite “Anne of Green Gables” in terms of my highs and lows, this place of mundane, dreary, middle ground is not my favourite. These are the times that are neither good nor bad, they just are. The waiting, treading water seasons that lack enough discomfort to drive us into God, but that don’t contain enough joy to remind us we are living. But all of these threads—the light, the dark, the neutral; the common, the rare, and the breathtaking—together, they contribute to the total design.
With maturity and a more seasoned perspective on life, I’ve learned to live engaged in the moment. I am not, by nature, a person who remains easily in the present. I tend to reflect on the past, wallowing in nostalgia and regret, or I strain toward the future, dreaming of and planning for what will be. While I agree that great contentedness comes from staying awake in our everyday lives, I also believe there can be value in looking behind; in turning around to gaze over what has been. Where I’ve come from. Not for the purpose of entertaining regret or shame, but in a way that allows me to learn from and appreciate the overall pattern. A number of years ago, I listened to a wonderful First Nations speaker named Terry LeBlanc talk about walking backwards into the future. This notion speaks to the value that can be gained in remembering and understanding our pasts. It’s about allowing where we’ve been to inform where we are going. It resonated greatly with me.
For some of us, the idea of looking back over our lives produces dread or fear. We don’t want to remember what was, whether the good or the bad. Perhaps in remembering the ‘good old days,’ we wonder if we’ve passed our prime; are our pinnacle days behind us? Looking back, thus, leaves us sad and longing for what was. Or maybe, what was behind was hard. Evil, even. The thought of reliving any part of it, even in the thinking of it, causes a vehement reaction to run, to turn away, to slam the door. Or perhaps we feel shame when we look behind, because we turned subtly or severely from what we knew was right. As a result, we experience regret and guilt when we remember things done and not done. But here is what I know. When we take a deep breath, summon our courage and choose to turn around, what we see will take our breath away.
When I reflect on my life, thus far, I feel both a healthy pride and some small amounts of disdain for my boneheadedness (we’re making that a word). I live as a person forgiven, free of shame and regret, but I’m also self-aware and cognizant of my own flaws and errors. I’ve trusted God absolutely…and sometimes, I’ve chosen my own path because I thought I knew better. I’ve worked to serve others and to bring healing…and conversely, I’ve hurt others and myself. I have chosen over and over to remain aware of God’s closeness in the midst of difficult times…and also, I’ve done anything I could to escape pressure and to numb my pain. When I gaze behind me, I do see the good, but I also see the deviations and mis-steps. I see the dark threads. If it were possible, I know I’d be tempted to root out those dark threads from my story. Wouldn’t you? But were we to do that, the complexities and pattern that have been created wouldn’t be what they are. You wouldn’t be who you are. I wouldn’t be who I am.
If God is Creator God, which I believe he is, and if God is unchanging, which I believe he is, then he is forever creating. He did not stop creating once the world was established. It’s in his nature to continue to create, and recreate, and redeem, and restore, and utilize every. single. part. While we tend to see events, experiences, and feelings in isolation and categorize them as “good” and “bad,” (especially when we’re in the middle of a season and don’t have a bird’s eye perspective), our Creator sees it all as valid and useful material. When we give our raw material over to him, He can make use of everything. When our hearts are inclined toward him and we say yes to his leading, He uses all the material of our lives to weave the most intricate and beautiful tapestry. The individual strands of disappointment and pain and joy and surrender get woven together in such a way that the overall image is beauty.
I don’t believe that God causes pain or inflicts illness. I think it’s simply part of the human experience; the result of living in an imperfect world with imperfect people. But I certainly do believe that he can weave together something beautiful with all the fibres of our lives. And he’s not done yet.
Take a big breath. Tell your regrets and your shame and your fear to be quiet. And then, turn around. Have a look at the tapestry flowing out behind you; the masterpiece extending from the loom of your life. It’s lovely and complex, light and dark. And altogether, it’s beautiful. God will keep his promise. He’ll weave together all things for your good.