For six years, we had a minor marital dispute over a vacuum cleaner. Whenever my husband would pull it out of the closet, he would instantly become frustrated because the cord was twisted up and couldn’t reach very far. Each time, he would remind me, again, to unwind it before storing it after each use. And I tried, truly. But I could never get it to straighten out. No matter how long or hard I tried, nothing worked for me. Alas, the cord wasn’t just shorter, the wires had become exposed.
We either needed to replace or repair the vacuum cleaner.
Then, one Sunday morning while I was helping tear down the sound equipment, our worship pastor shouted,“Wait! Stop! Don’t wind it up like that! Cords have memory!”
Apparently I was winding up the microphone cords incorrectly. He knew if he didn’t intervene, I would ruin a piece of the sound system. He very patiently explained to me that when you wind up a cord—think extension cord, amp cords, telephone cords (if you remember back to those long stretchy landline chords)—if you want it to hold up over time, you have to turn it the same way after each use. Why? Because if you constantly wind cords in different directions, the cord eventually gets all wound up, wonky, and in need of replacement. But, if you wind it up the same way, following the cord’s original direction, it remains neat, smooth, and in tact.
My pastor not only rescued the sound system that day, he also helped me fix my vacuum cleaner. I took the phrase cords have memory to heart. Over the next few weeks, I carefully wound up the vacuum cleaner cord the same way after each use. Eventually, it untangled. Those cords have been smooth for a whole year, and we’ve never once argued about the vacuum cleaner. I guess you could say our pastor also saved a bit of our marriage.
Our Inner Cords
Our inner lives have a similar type of cord memory. We inherit ideas, values, and belief systems from our families, faith backgrounds, and cultural surroundings. Many of these are good and right. But sometimes, the way we’ve always done things or thought about things, isn’t good. Maybe the opinions we’ve always held aren’t actually right. Perhaps we just think one way, value certain things, or apply biblical principles in a particular way to our lives. Sometimes we have to unwind these inner cords in order to retrain our minds according to what is true. Other times, we might need to unwind them to evaluate whether or not we’re truly living in accordance with the gospel.
The latter is the one I wrestle with the most. Maybe it’s true for you too. Until someone else’s cords confront ours, we feel pretty safe. We can’t see any kinks or janky spots. But when we begin to rub up against the outer workings of another person’s cords, we start to bristle. We’d much prefer to be the same, right? If all of our cords aligned perfectly, we could live in perfect harmony.
You don’t need me to tell you we’re not the same. In the words of my grandfather, “Everybody is somebody’s weirdo.” As much as we might wish we could all agree, share a similar perspective on life, and always feel understood, it’s just not the way things are. Even if we share a similar worldview, our inner cords may still differ.
When Inner Cords Differ From Those Around Us
I will be the first to admit that I don’t like to have cords wound differently from others. It makes friendships difficult and can cause you to feel like you don’t really belong anywhere. Sometimes it’s tempting to turn away from anyone who is different or holds a different opinion.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally feel this struggle with my non-Christian friends. I expect us to think, feel, act, and speak differently. Yet when I notice these kinds of differences within the Church, well, that’s a different story. Instead of seeking to understand someone who’s not like us, we cross our arms, point fingers, yell, and draw lines in the sand. Some of us will even go so far as to leave a church when we feel too different from those next to us in the pew. (Sometimes, I feel tempted to walk out of mine).
I don’t think our desire for sameness is necessarily wrong; it’s just skewed. God created us in his image, which is that of three persons in one God. So, just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unique in function, they are one in purpose and mission. So too, the people of God are one body in Christ. We’re made up of many members with different backgrounds, gifts, ethnicities, social statuses, abilities, etc. Yet we have one purpose. God calls his people to work together as one body, with one mind, for the sake of the gospel.
But being ‘one mind’ and being unified does not mean we are the same. To be one-minded, with one purpose, with the same love, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2, means we are to live as Christ lived. God calls us to intently model our lives after Jesus’ life. What was Jesus like? What did he do? Well, he was humble. Took the form of a servant. He obeyed to the point of a shameful death.
These are the ways we are to be the same. If a person claims to be a follower of Christ, he or she will be marked by Christlike humility and servitude.
Living With Those Who Are Different
How does this help us learn how to live with our differences? It offers us a great deal of help. Because if my goal is to be a humble, obedient servant of God, then I can do that anywhere, with anyone, no matter how different we might be. Will it be easy? Of course not. But God doesn’t call us to a life he won’t equip us to live out.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years unwinding and re-twisting some of the cords in my life. This process requires time, prayer, and many angsty tears. I’ve wrestled with Scripture, asked questions, and honestly evaluated my own belief systems. I had to completely retrain some of the cords I untangled. Others remained just as they were when I started. There are certain truths—cords if you will—that I will never unwind in my heart or mind. And I pray fervently for the Lord to keep me, hold me, guard me, and preserve me while I ‘guard the good deposit entrusted to me’ (2 Timothy 1:12-14 ).
But there are also cords that I’ve learned to loosen my grip on. Not because I’m wrong, but I’ve learned to accept nuance. And, let me tell you, I used to hate the word nuance. It felt uncertain, wishy-washy, and sort of like you could sweet-talk your way onto any side of an issue. I much prefer issues to be black and white with a clearly defined list of do’s and don’ts. But it’s just not that way. When I recognize someone may think differently about something, and it’s not an issue of gospel truth, I can still love them. I can have fellowship with them. We can invite them over for dinner. I can like their posts on Instagram, read their books, and serve alongside them in ministry. We can even learn from them.
Now before you assume I’m saying there are no black and white issues about the Bible, you can calm down. I believe there are many. But I am saying it’s good to consider which of our cords need to be retrained. Or perhaps which ones we just need to loosen our grip on, recognizing the way someone else winds up their cords may not be wrong, just different.
Because God is constantly shaping and molding us into his image, I imagine we’ll need to repeat the process again and again. Sometimes it hurts. It takes time. But it’s definitely worth it. Why?
A Cord Which Binds
In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul speaks to this idea of cords so beautifully. Paul writes:
“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”Colossians 3:14
The word translated as bind together is the same word for ligaments. Love is the necessary cord in order to live as God calls us to live with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, we are to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient. And we need these qualities in increasing measure. But more than these, love is what keeps the body of Christ in tact. We may think differently and our practical application of the gospel may differ from someone else’s, but through the power of Christ we can still love. Why? Because we are loved.
God chose to love us, people who were not just different from him. We were his enemies. Yet he chose to extend his mercy, pour out his grace, and draw us near. Simply because he chose to love us.
Cords have memory, but the cords of Christ can never be broken.
No can undo God’s love and nothing can destroy it. He will hold us and continue to bind up his Church together through Christ as our Head.
May we join him in this good work. May we love as we’ve been loved.