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Linear: Never Was, Never Will Be  | Provoketive Magazine
18 Jan 2012

The Author

pastor, writer, advocate, mommy, rule-breaker, dreamer.


Linear: Never Was, Never Will Be

Even before I became a Christian I had crazy idea embedded inside of me that life was supposed to be pretty clear and easy if you did certain things.  Maybe it was growing up with a single mom who struggled and scraped and believing that “if I got a college education, it wouldn’t be like that” or “If you don’t rock the boat, you can keep everyone happy.” The message of “Do this that and you can get this or that” was engrained in me from early on, and this was long before I became a Christ-follower.  I sort of think it’s human nature.

Once I made the leap toward Jesus in my early adult years, the message was actually more strongly reinforced, only with a little twist of adding “God” to it:   “If you do these things, believe these things, memorize these things, God will _________.”

Really, this kind of thinking makes an assumption that life is supposed to look like this:

It’s ladder-like living where we keep moving forward and don’t look back.  One rung after another after another, somehow expected to forget what’s behind us and keep pressing forward to what’s ahead. With enough faith, forgiveness, prayer, and fortitude, we’ll keep rising higher and higher and getting better and better.   It’s formulaic and if you just do the right things, the right things will come together.

Yeah, it didn’t work so well for me.  As much as I secretly long for “linear” my life was anything but.  In fact, my life has always felt a lot more like this:

Look familiar?

About 16 years ago I heard a very wise woman named Jan Frank speak at a women’s retreat.  I have no idea what she’s doing these days, but I will always remember this imagery.  She shared that even though we long for life to be linear, and to be healed quickly from things in the past or negative messages about ourselves, it just doesn’t work that way.  Rather, over the course of our lives we will continually hit our “stuff” over and over again, but each time at a new place. 

The model she shared looked like this:

The spiral is bringing me hope right now.  Sometimes longing and hoping and wishing and begging for life to be linear can be so frustrating.   I don’t want to still be saddled with the same messages I have struggled with for years. The ones that all-roads-lead-to for me are “I’m not enough” and “I’m really on my own.”  As much healing work as God has done with them, as much as I know they are not true, as much as I can put them in their proper place, they still show up in my heart and my head and relationships.  Meanwhile, I keep consciously and unconsciously expecting them to be done, in the past, and happily moving up the next rung of the ladder.

But I am reminded, yet again, as this new year begins that life is so not linear.  It never was and it never will be.  I am going to hit my woundedness again, and again, and again over the course of my life, but each time at a little different place.  Instead of expecting the messes to be gone and being angry at myself and God for not taking care of it as quickly as I’d like, I am learning to lean into God’s ongoing transformation in my life.   I will continually bump into these core messages, especially during times of trial and challenge, and each time God will work to heal and restore yet another layer that needs tending to.

Linear expectations of ourselves, of God, of other people tend to lead to shame, self-hatred, and anger.   I think a lot of our church experiences have subtly and directly taught us that linear living was possible.  In this model, we always fall short and end up feeling bad about ourselves.  It eventually leads to hopelessness.

Thinking that life is just a chaotic, crazy roller coaster ride with no rhyme or reason to it isn’t very hopeful, either.

Accepting the spiral-ness of life leads to freedom, hope, and peace.  It lets God off the hook and helps us notice “Yep, there it is again, rearing its ugly little head, trying to teach me something” instead of being royally ticked that we’re still struggling.   This infuses me with hope.

Hope that I’m not a total screw-up.
Hope that there’s a bigger story unfolding.
Hope that God is always at work, transforming, rebuilding, renewing, restoring.
No matter how many times I hit the same stuff.

Hope is remembering that every time I bump up against my weaknesses and painful parts of my story, it is at a new place, there to teach me something really good about what it means to be human in need of God’s help and hope in a messy, broken world.

Yeah, life is not linear.  Never was and never will be.

[This post is part of the Synchroblog on Hope.  For a full list of participants and posts, go here.]

  1. Hi Kathy,

    I enjoyed reading your essay. Interestingly, your bolded text sort of turned hope on its ear. You referred to it in the present tense, so in a way it wasn’t hope at all, but rather an uncomfortable collision with the present moment (until you got to the part about God’s help and hope). In my view, and in my interpretation of your description, the present moment contains everything we need even at its most uncomfortable. Don’t mean to be putting words in your mouth here, this is just my interpretation.


    • yeah, for me, this synchroblog was about writing what was bringing me hope right now. this awareness is. like so many things, hope can look so different for people, and this is just what feels hopeful to me. thanks for sharing your perspective.

    • oops, somehow the comment i wrote never made it there. thanks for sharing your reflection. for me, this synchroblog was just about what was bringing me hope right now. that’s the perspective i wrote it from; i think hope looks so different for different people. this is just what’s hopeful & sustaining for me at the moment.

  2. I think hope is a very present experience. Hope is the linear connecting of the dots, those learning moments, on the messy spiral of life. Thanks Kathy.

  3. Thanks Kathy. As always, you have come up with a highly inspiring post. Alhough I think that my spiral might be wound a little more tight!! :)

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