Have you ever felt like the tangled mess in this picture?Paper tangle

Going round in circles, getting more tied up the more you try to get free.

I have.

In pursuit of a business that was meant to fulfil my dreams for my family, I risked losing their trust and affection, and my ability to dream.

In desiring to share my faith in the Christ who once brought me joy, I succumbed to dry duty, and became burdened by my own joyless hypocrisy.

At times I have worn myself out in the noble pursuit of what I thought was right – only to see my efforts achieve little or make things worse.

Effort doesn’t count for much if the proper motivation has been lost.

Jesus said to the hypocrites of his day, “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”  This is not the sort of disciple-maker I would want to be!

Sometimes the mess we make of our lives – and the lives of those around us – cannot be fixed by us alone.  Look again at those tangled strips of paper.  This particular tangled mess cannot be untangled.  There are no ends, and every loop interlocks with every other loop, so as you try to separate one you find a tangle tightening elsewhere.

Yet, although it cannot be untangled, with the right understanding and enough care and attention it could be put back together – which is a very different thing.

Let me explain from the beginning how I made it, then I will come back to what I’m trying to say.


If you take a strip of paper, twist it once and stick the ends together, you have a Möbius strip.

Strip of paper

Möbius stripIt is a shape with only one edge and one face.  It is endless.  If you draw a continuous line along the middle of the strip you will arrive back where you started, having covered both sides of the paper (because it is now really all one side).

Mobius Strip Line

If you cut along that line with scissors, you don’t get 2 pieces.  You get a bigger, narrower loop – another Möbius strip, right?  Well I thought so, but I was wrong: the new loop of paper now has 2 turns in it instead of 1, making it just a twisted loop of paper.

photo 4

So let’s cut that one in half too to see what happens!  Now you have an even thinner, larger continuous loop.  Which is back to being a Möbius strip again, right?

photo 2

No, I thought wrong again, it is not even one loop, it is 2 loops interlocked – each the same length as the previous stage but thinner.  And neither is a Möbius strip.

photo 3

And now, if you keep cutting down the middle of each loop, as I did, you will create ever more interlocking twisted loops of the same length but narrower width, and none will be a Mobius strip.

Mobius strip halved 3 times

And this is how I arrived at this interesting but tangled mess.

As much as I hoped to rediscover an endless Möbius strip from the original by cutting it down, I couldn’t.   It lost it’s identity on the first cut.

However all those tangled pieces, if taped back in the right way, would recreate a Möbius strip.  Anyone looking at the mess would think it random and without order, and yet in a way it’s identity was still there, hidden to anyone except the one who made it in the first place, who would be the only one to remake it properly.


‘He has set eternity in the hearts of men, yet no-one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end’

– Ecclesiastes 3:11

Humour me here as I pursue an analogy:

Imagine your life as a Möbius strip.  Your name (who you really are) is written along that endless strip of paper, it runs right through you.

You appear to be a finite being, unremarkable on first inspection, yet you are somehow endless, for God has placed eternity in you.  You may be aware of hints of this eternity but it is hard to fathom.

Life cuts you apart, stretches you thin, tangles you up.  You may not even remember a time when your identity was clear to you, or your life simple and untangled.  It may never have been that way.   Perhaps life has been cruel to you, or perhaps you have inflicted cuts on yourself, one way or another.

You work hard to improve yourself, yet even when this seems to stretch you bigger, something has been lost.  You see no evidence of eternity in you.

And if you realise you have got yourself into a mess, your efforts to put it right can feel like trying to untangled that which just cannot be untangled.

When we find ourselves in this place we may conclude it is a mess that cannot be fixed.

And we may well get angry at God for allowing us to get into a mess that only ties us up more as we try to unpick it.  And we may decide that he lies, or simply doesn’t exist, when He says there is hope, or that we can overcome, or that we are his children, somehow bearing His identity.

But when things look hopeless, we cannot fathom things the way God can.  He can see the identity He gave us and the promises that still hold true for us, written through us, and only he can put us back the way we were created to be.