I make quilts. And I make stoles for ministers. I pick beautiful fabrics. I cut carefully and sew precisely. And then I iron them the wrong way.
Not incorrectly. I iron them a different direction than they will finally go – and after I have done that, I iron them again the right way.
I do this because the wrong-way ironing prepares the fabric to lie precisely and smoothly in its final position when I iron it right-way.
The process reminds me of a friend who was a sailor – he once told me that the trick in sailing is to steer the sailboat somewhere you are not really headed. It’s called tacking.
Or the mystery story writer who directs your attention toward one set of clues and suspects, but ends the story with a surprise.
Or the child with a “Chinese Finger Puzzle” who has to counter-intuitively push her hands together to loosen the web and free her fingers.
Please notice that I am not talking about learning from unintentional mistakes. I’m talking about initially moving away from an outcome so that when you get to the end, your project is stronger or smoother or better. It requires patience and an understanding of the structure of what you making or doing, so that your move in the “wrong” direction still ends up in the right place.
Here’s what I have learned from ironing the wrong way: the way to solving a problem or reaching a goal is sometimes indirect, and it is okay that we are not always headed where we think we are going.
Prayer: God of all of our days, help us to feel a sense of direction in our lives and work, but not so strongly that we don’t recognize where we are really headed. Amen.