Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Deconstructing a Sweater

I deconstructed a sweater the other day.

I didn't really WANT to. I'd put a lot of work into it, and I really liked the pattern that I'd used. But I realized that in the time since I'd finished it, I hadn't worn it even once. It wasn't comfortable and didn't fit me quite right; the neckline was too tight, the length was too short, and the armpits were too thick. So rather than let it continue to let it take up space in my closet, I decided to return it to its original elements and see if I could create something that would be more useful.

(Partway through the process)
The first step was to find the ends of the yarn. This was a lot more difficult than you might think. See, when you knit a sweater, you don't tie the end in a big bulky knot to keep it from unravelling; you leave a long tail and then weave it in with the body of the work so that it blends right in.  Sometimes the only clue that you're anywhere near a loose end is that the stitches MAYBE look a little thicker in one spot. But if you do the weaving well, it's very hard to tell.

So I started poking around with a blunt needle, tugging gently at parts of the knitting that looked promising. I stretched the sleeves ever-so-slightly to see if any tiny tails were released, I picked at the seams to look for clues, I peered at the knitting 1/8 of an inch by 1/8 of an inch. It was tedious, frustrating, and disheartening. I wondered more than once if maybe it wasn't worth it to deconstruct this sweater. But I kept going.

Every time found a loose end, I began to carefully unweave it, separating the tail from the body of stitches. This meant navigating an increasingly longer tail of yarn as I tried to liberate it from first the inside of the sweater, then along the seams. Sometimes, I'd find that the tail's path went THROUGH the middle of another piece of yarn, instead of around it as I had intended. While it wouldn't have been a problem if I'd left the sweater alone, it caused horrific tangles over the course of my deconstruction. There were times that I had to carefully separate the individual strands making up the yarn to negotiate it free, and at least once, I had to cut out a piece that was beyond rescue (much to my chagrin). This whole process took MUCH longer than I expected it to. I had constructed this sweater carefully, planning for it to survive movement, laundry, and aging. When I originally put it together, I had no intention of it ever coming apart, so it fought me every step of the way. But I kept going.

Once I had finally taken out all the seams and separated the different parts of the sweater, then came the unravelling. This part went pretty fast. All it took was a little tug, and the stitches came undone one after the other. But I couldn't just leave it in a pile on the floor; that would inevitable cause me more trouble down the road (not least of all because I have cats). So as each inch of yarn came free from the sweater, I carefully wound it back into balls so it would be safe and free from damage until I figured out what I should use it for next.

(As a bonus, I wound up with a yarn-cake)
It occurs to me that we often think of our faith like a sweater. We take a long time to figure out what it looks like, how to make it fit, what to use it for, and then at some point, it becomes a finished product that we can share and enjoy. We assume that without the completed sweater, we can't know God.

But our faith isn't the sweater at all. It's the yarn. Over the course of our lives, we learn patterns and ways to ARRANGE our faith that provides a framework and can result in some truly beautiful results. These faith-system-sweaters take our raw faith and turn it from something abstract and indescribable into something tangible that we can use to make our lives better.

But sometimes, we realize later that the pattern had errors in it, or that the sweater doesn't fit us anymore, or that it isn't an especially good use of the yarn. When this happens, we have to decide what to do next: do we take it apart and figure out a better way to use the yarn, or do we ignore its problems and hold tight to our old, uncomfortable sweater? You already know how daunting a task it is to deconstruct a sweater; it's unquestionably easier to leave it as it is. But EASIER isn't always BETTER.


Deconstructing systems of faith is challenging. These systems were created to endure, the whole point of them is to add permanence and cohesion for our faith. Sometimes, they're so perfectly constructed that we have trouble even figuring out where to start. We try tugging at the parts that don't seem right, but they refuse to give. Even when you do find a starting point, you may find ourselves on a winding journey that doesn't seem to lead anywhere. And then, all of a sudden, things seem to start falling apart in your hands. You don't know what to do with this raw faith that no longer has a structure, a purpose, a home. 

But as long as you take care of the parts that matter - not the intricate stitches that hold the system together, but the love of God and neighbor that are the most basic parts of faith - you will never be left with nothing. You may have to trim off a part here or there that you find doesn't actually serve God, but you don't have to throw it all away. And in time, with prayer and exploration and discernment, you will figure out a much better way to use your faith-yarn. A way that fits like a glove, and reflects who you are, and truly honors the material that its made out of. And whenever you're ready for that, God will be there, handing you the knitting needles. Encouraging you to keep going.

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