Untying the Knots That Bind Us

Bill Fowler, YTI Church Relations and Professor of New Testament and Practical Theology

October 2015 Inscribed

Whether it’s a pair of headphones previously coiled nice and neat, or a tangled fishing line, life tends to get knotted up. Sometimes, those knots are harmless, and the solution comes with a few moments of patient work. Sometimes, however, the knot is more severe and aggravates the dysfunction of our world and our relationships with one another. YTI Provost Bill Fowler covers eight ‘cords’, or traits, of this world that tangle us up. Fortunately, he also reminds us of the truth of God that can not only untie those knots, but also help us keep those lines straight so we can to lead happier and healthier lives.


Unintentional though it may be, we as a culture have appeared to adopt the notion that love is something to be earned. Perhaps it is in the way we were banished to our bedrooms when we behaved poorly as children, but one way or another, it is clear that love has become dependent on our performance. Good behavior warrants care and adoration, while bad behavior gets us sent to the ‘doghouse’. We then go on to believe that love is dependent on performance.


We hear the words “always” and “never” strung along with our shortcomings, and we take them to heart. The consistent shame eventually leads to self-blame; the effects compound, and the blame surfaces again quickly in the future.


With the consistent shame of not performing well enough to warrant love, we tend to reach for the best – we all want to be the best at something, whether by having the ‘perfect’ body or report card, or by being the best piano player or soccer player. We endeavor for more than we have. We endeavor for perfection.

KNOT #4: Perfection is Demanded

But the trouble with perfection is that it is unrealistic. Bringing that ‘B’ up to an ‘A’ on your report card might still not be enough when you have two absences marking your record. In situations where ‘perfect’ is difficult to achieve, the illusion of perfection is an acceptable substitution, especially as it allows us to deny that anything is wrong.

KNOT #5: Living in Denial and Delusion

Living in denial, of course, clouds our perceptions of reality. We come to believe that as long as Dad can hold a job, then he has no drinking problem; in essence, we believe that as long as the skin is intact, then we can ignore the rotten core.


Perhaps it stems from our need to be the best, or perhaps we simply want to find some satisfaction amidst the brokenness of our world, but there’s a sense of longing that can manifest itself in compulsive addictive behaviors. Perhaps we strive too hard for high regard in our workplace, and the achievements grant us a sliver of satisfaction and pleasure. In the process, however, we alienate family and friends, resulting in new guilt and shame, which pushes us back to the happiness that made us feel guilty in the first place. The cycle, in that way, perpetuates itself and traps us.

KNOT #7: Frozen Feelings

Often, we have trouble giving adequate expressions to our emotions. Perhaps we feel happy about a promotion, but it comes at a somber time for those around us and so we keep quiet, stuffing our happiness or our discomfort below the surface, like toxic waste stored in drums at the bottom of a lake. The trouble is that in time, we have to deal with those feelings all the same.


Ultimately, when the dysfunctions of our world stack up in this way, it comes to no surprise that we harbor an inability to celebrate.

Untangling the Knots

So what do we need to help us untangle these cords?

We need someone who will love us without conditions, who will not condemn us, but will encourage our successes and help us learn from our mistakes. We need someone who will affirm both our worth and our needs, someone who will rescue us from comparing ourselves to others and help us see our places in society as both viable and interdependent. We need someone who will help us find what it is that satisfies our need for satisfaction. We need someone with whom we can express our fullest range of emotions, someone with whom there would be much to celebrate.

Are there people in the world who can help us with these things? Absolutely. But they too are victims of the same struggles we have; the same cords that bind us bind them too.

What we need is Jesus. While we were helpless and ungodly, and still sinners, he demonstrated his love by dying for us. There is, in him, no condemnation, and through him, we are called to a different kind of perfection – not of flawless performance but of fullness of character. The only comparison worth making is to him, and he promises to guide us toward his image. Feasting in fellowship with him, our hunger is satisfied, and he will hold us accountable to both our faults as well as our achievements.

Our broken world appears to tangle and knot us, countless times over. But there is no knot that Jesus cannot unravel; we just have to ask him for his help.

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