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Untangling the Soul
The journey toward healing
If you’d told me two years ago how much sailing could teach me about life, I would have thought you were crazy. What could a recreational sport teach me about the beauty and complexity of our inner lives? But as the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
I started learning the fundamentals of sailing three years ago. Wind and sails are clearly important, but the lines are vital too. Lines control the shape of the sails, manage the boat's speed, and turn the boat by shifting the sails from one side of the boat to the other. Proper management of the lines is crucial due to their significant role. A tangled line could lead to disaster in challenging windy conditions that require swift sail adjustments. But even with attentive care, they can get tangled. They get bumped around, twisted, shoved out of the way, and tangled up with other lines. And sometimes, things outside your control result in your lines becoming a knotted mess.
A couple of years ago, Ken and I were enjoying a pleasant sail on a small lake in our hometown. As we reached one end of the lake, we adjusted the sails—turning the boat and setting our course toward the other end. With the wind light and at our backs, Ken thought it would be an excellent time to use our whisker pole—a tool that extends the front sail out and prevents it from flapping in light wind. Everything was great until a sudden microburst hit us, and chaos ensued. For several minutes, intense winds overpowered the boat, and we lost all steering and control, resulting in an unsafe and uncontrolled turn of the boat. The swirling winds tangled our lines, further complicating matters. Ultimately, regaining control hinged on untangling our lines in order to lower the whisker pole. It was a tense few minutes, for sure!
So what does sailing have to do with the soul?
As we journey through life our soul gets tossed around, twisted, and tangled too. Sometimes it is the result of our own choices. Sometimes it is because we live in a broken world and things outside our control happen. And other times, it is the impact another’s actions have on us.
Healing is a journey of untangling the soul.
Untangling our knotted-up souls would be easier if only one of these factors were involved. But because we are complex beings, isolating emotions caused by recent events from those that occurred decades ago can be challenging. New situations not only give birth to new feelings but also resurrect old emotions. Our sin and suffering get tangled up with another’s sin and suffering. And everything gets intertwined into one big knotty mess, making it hard to distinguish where one line ends and another begins.
There are countless reasons our souls get knotted up:
Fear (real and perceived)
Family of origin and relational wounds
Scarcity (fear of not having enough of what you need or want)
Instability (financial, social, familial)
Our own sin
Lies and false narratives we believe of ourselves, others, or our circumstances
Spiritual bypassing (using spirituality to avoid facing unresolved emotional issues)
Cultural and societal expectations
Abuse (physical, emotional, spiritual, gaslighting)
Neglecting our emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being
Cognitive dissonance (the discomfort you feel when your behavior does not align with your values or beliefs, or the discomfort you feel when another person’s behavior does not align with the values or beliefs they profess).
Life in this fractured world can toss us about like the wind tossed the lines on our sailboat that day. Eventually, the winds of life calm, and everything settles. All the while, our inner lives remain a jumbled-up mess. And amid the daily hustle, we often fail to realize how disrupted and tangled our soul has become. But we're also adept at using distraction, avoidance, and other tactics to briefly soothe the unrest within. Meanwhile, underneath the surface calm, past hurts, regrets, grief, and fears linger, needing attuned, compassionate care.
Though we are not always aware of the tangles within our souls, there are some indicators that something within may need tending:
Withdrawal and isolation
Persistent anxiety and depression
Emotions like anger and sorrow are normal responses to the hardships of life. And it takes time and energy to process our emotions in healthy ways. Having emotions isn’t a problem to solve. But when we get stuck, our reactions don’t match the current situation, or we act out in harmful ways toward ourselves or others, it may indicate that our soul needs attention.
Just like Ken and I had to untangle the knots in our lines to restore our boat's capacity to sail, we need to untangle the knots in our souls to experience healing and flourishing in our relationships with God and others. This healing also frees us to use all God has given us—our gifts, passions, experiences, and creativity—to contribute to the world's flourishing selflessly, free from the need for success or others’ approval, praise, and acknowledgment.
So how does this kind of healing happen?
Healing is a journey of untangling the soul—knot by knot, over time, with good tools, through God’s power.
1. Knot by knot
Untangling the soul works like triage in an emergency room—you must first address the most critical wounds. What is bleeding out? What is life-threatening? You cannot handle it all at once. Healing is a process of untangling your soul, knot by knot. If you’re in crisis mode, you're not likely to have the emotional bandwidth needed to process things “less” pressing.
I learned this firsthand several years ago when I sent two leaders from our church to lead a Bible study on shame for adult women survivors of sex trafficking, drug addiction, and prostitution. Initially, we believed the study would greatly benefit them and were surprised by their lack of engagement. Over time, however, we realized our shortsightedness. Each of these women was in crisis mode—overcoming drug addiction, facing potential prison terms, and awakening to the relational fallout of fractured family relationships and losing custody of their children. Shame was the furthest thing from their minds!
Was shame an emotional factor worth exploring? Yes! But they couldn’t untangle that knot until some surrounding knots were loosed.
2. Over a lifetime
My cousin’s wife Cathy recently passed away after a brief battle with cancer. Among her final words were thoughts on healing. She said,
“In life, there are three kinds of healing. A miraculous instant healing, a progressive healing, and complete healing on the other side of this life in God's presence…If my healing is complete in God's presence and you have been praying [for my healing] and continue to, don't let that dash your hopes, dreams, and most of all, your faith.”
Cathy’s healing is now complete. But healing the soul tends to be progressive; it rarely happens quickly. If you have ever dealt with a tangled necklace, you know this well. It takes time, patience, and a delicate touch. As you work through one knot at a time, things begin to unwind, enabling you to see more clearly where the next knot begins. And so the process continues until all the knots are free and you stand perfectly, wholly healed in the presence of Christ.
3. With good tools
Untangling the soul is work. It means looking at the things we would rather avoid, such as: bringing our shame into the light, facing our fears, making amends for our wrongs, grieving our losses, and even feeling the pain or anger we stuffed or hyper-spiritualized away. And for this work to be done effectively, we need good tools:
4. Through the power of God
Untangling the soul is not solo work; it is collaborative. We work in tandem with the Lord. We surrender to the healing process and utilize the tools he has provided, and he unravels our knotted-up souls with attuned care and a delicate hand.
But ultimately, it is God who heals. He is the one who untangles our knotted-up souls. He has promised to bind up every wound, heal every disease, and wipe away every tear—whether instantly or progressively in this life or ultimately in the next. And the good news is that he is wholly invested in our healing (Exodus 15:26, Psalm 103, Isaiah 61, Ezekiel 34).
Sometimes, the untangling also means an unraveling. It can be disorienting, frustrating, and even grueling. Healing is not always easy. It’s hard work. Ask anyone who had had to endure hours of physical therapy after a terrible injury! But the fruit of an untangled soul is peace, joy, and freedom unlike any we’ve ever known.
Love you guys!
If you’d like to explore this further, schedule some time to work through the following exercises.
Engage the Scripture:
Choose one or two of the following to focus on over the next few weeks:
In a Bible app like YouVersion or Bible Gateway, search for the keyword(s) heal, healer, or healing. As you scroll through the verses referencing healing, find one or two that speak to you. Write them out in your journal and spend a few moments journaling about them.
Read Psalm 103. How does this Psalm reveal God as the one who is both willing and able to untangle the knots?
Read Isaiah 53. The prophet says, “by his stripes we are healed.” How could remembering that Jesus’ broken body has secured our healing bring you both comfort and courage to embrace the untangling?
Explore Your Story:
Is there an area of your life that’s bleeding out? Are you in crisis mode? If so, what knots are crying out for attuned, compassionate care?
Is there a knotted part of your soul you’ve avoided attending to? If so, why do you think that is?
If you are not in a crisis and there’s not an unhealed area you’ve knowingly avoided, pray the following prayer and then be still and listen for the Spirit’s prompting.
“Lord, what do you want me to know about my tangled soul right now? What areas need attentive care?”
Write down anything that comes to mind.
Reflect on Jesus’ ministry—untangling knotted souls through healing their diseases, restoring dignity to the shamed and rejected, forgiving sins, and reconciling enemies to one another by making them into one new family. And then consider the following questions:
What is Jesus’ posture toward those he heals (physically, spiritually, socially, etc)?
How does seeing Jesus’ emphasis on untangling the knotted places for others make you feel about your own knotted places?
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