Spider Webs and Identity

The morning of the first day of school, I stepped outside early to enjoy the crisp air before waking up our three kids. I welcomed the beautiful mountains and mist so typical of our magnificent Rabun County. Shimmering patches on our fence caught my eye and I walked over to investigate. The spiders had been busy the night before, casting their webbed nets in order to catch insects that happened to fly by. The early morning mist had strung pearls of dew along their lines. Some of these shimmering webs were no more than a few square inches while others claimed a square foot or more of open territory between the slats of the fence.

I love spiders. Spiders help reduce the numbers of unwanted insects around our doors and windows and are, undeniably, some of the greatest artists in our natural world. They also are harbingers, heralding the coming changing of the seasons. When I see the proliferation of their webs this time of year, I know that fall is approaching with its pumpkins, leaves in hues of rust and gold, and children in costume with hands outstretched waiting for candy and treats.

Of course, the spider doesn’t know I respect its work or that I’m admiring its artistry. It is by instinct and identity that the spider weaves its web. I have wondered before if a spider is irritated when a human walks through its web, destroying it as we dance in panic. Does the spider laugh or cock its head in curiosity at the sight of us as our posture instantly changes from a leisurely stroll to flailing body, our arms grasping at the web that is now plastered to our faces and our feet hopping in hopes of shaking free any spider that may now be in our hair on our person?

Do you suppose an adolescent spider struggles with confidence and identity the same ways our children do? When sports seasons change, I ask my kids if they want to play a different sport or sign up for a new activity. I have been surprised and dismayed when they have responded, “No. I’m no good at that.” Of course, my immediate reply is, “But that’s the point! You take the class or join the team to learn how to play or do it. You don’t start knowing how. No one does!” I don’t remember having this thought when I was a kid. Perhaps I said the same thing to my parents but, if I did, those conversations are no longer in my memory bank.

I confess that I worry about the illusions that pervade the world of my children’s youth. We see finished products that took hours to create and lives that have been carefully curated. Not many people show their whole lives on their social media accounts, opting instead to share only the best and most polished moments. Celebrities post pictures of themselves that we can too easily believe are from their behind-the-scenes “real” lives but which have been carefully staged and photoshopped. If we only ever see these perfect images, do we run the risk of believing their lives are effortless? And, if that’s the case, do we also run the risk of not attempting more in this lifetime because we think we have failed if we aren’t guaranteed success the first time we try something?

I’m afraid of the subtle messages that creep into our minds as we gaze upon perfectly airbrushed covers of magazines and highly produced advertisements. Too easily we can shift from admiring the picture or person to wanting to be like them to despairing that we’ll never be like them. Quickly we can succumb to a defeatist attitude, one that would tell us to give up before we ever begin because we could never attain perfection.

I’m worried that we aren’t exposed enough to the hours and hours of work that produced the perfection our culture portrays. We don’t see the forty to fifty hours a week the athlete spends on the training field. We aren’t witness to the time spent with hair and makeup professionals.We certainly aren’t privy to the editing room where artists and photographers take raw film and photograms and transform them over hours into the finished product that will grace the screen or the magazine rack.

My prayer is that my children learn to be more like the spiders. I doubt any young spider ever looked at the work of another and thought, “I’ll never be able to do that as well as they do. I might as well give up.”

No. The spider weaves her web because it’s what she was created to do. Out of the instinct of her identity, she begins her work, connecting silky thread to silky thread. In the end, she has cast her net imperfectly but beautifully, a work of art that will be unlike any that has come before; and impermanent, lasting only a day or two before needing to be repaired or rebuilt entirely. She lives comfortably and confidently as she was created by God to be. She weaves her web and we are blessed enough to gaze upon the fruit of her labors.

May we all inhabit our lives as God created us to be, each beautiful and unique and beloved. May we cease comparing ourselves to others. May we have the good sense to turn away from the illusions of our society, choosing instead what is real: the child of God inside each of us, imbued with particular talents and called to particular ministries. May we strive, not for illusory perfection, but to weave the webs of our own callings.

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