(There are two types of posts that are hard to write. Posts that would earn me a night on the couch. Like Beth Moore, my wife loves Beth Moore and if I was sarcastic about her she would kill me. I like Beth Moore too, honestly I think she’s great, but if I put her on this list I will be sleeping in the living room. The other type of post that is hard to write are things like one. I’ve talked about this idea before but it’s still a weird one to be honest about. Hopefully though, that is what this site thrives on, people being honest.)
I used to think that when God forgave me for something, I didn’t have to deal with ever again. His forgiveness was like this magic wand that completely banished whatever I had done. I’m not sure I believe that anymore.
It’s not that I don’t believe He wipes our slate clean and we are washed pure in the blood of Christ. It’s just that I think there is great danger in not learning from our lives. I feel like we repeat our mistakes if we treat them like gross regrets that must be locked in a chest of forgiveness thrown deep in the sea to never be examined again. Maybe you have never done that, never run from your past instead of deal with it because you hoped confessing it to God would instantly banish it forever. But I did.
For years, I told friends and family and anyone that would listen a story about something that happened to me in high school. I made a joke of it because humor was the only blanket I knew how to wrap around hurt. I guess on some level, I knew it was a dark event, something that had wounded me, but I always spun it as just something funny that happened to me at one of those crazy Catholic schools you hear about. It wasn’t until counselor number 3 stopped me dead in my tracks that I stopped laughing and started looking at that moment.
Prior to that, I had used a kaleidoscope to look back at that memory. Instead of colorful pieces of glass and mirror, I had added in humor and wit, laughter and lightness, hoping that when I looked at it, I wouldn’t see the hurt. It would look big and bright and different until it became just another random chapter in the story of my life.
The problem with the kaleidoscope approach to reviewing the past is that it lies to you. You don’t really see what happened, you just see what you wish had happened. There was nothing funny about that moment. Had I any self awareness I would have noticed that when I told that story, most of the faces of the people listening returned shock or sadness. But I needed it to be funny because I didn’t want to deal with it.
The other way we sometimes look back on the past is with a microscope. We magnify words or actions until they’re so big and detailed that they start to dominate our lives. We define who we currently are by something that happened a long time ago. We let small instances grow big and powerful as we peer through the lens of the microscope. We become obsessed and controlled by a moment we can’t escape.
The danger is that regardless of whether you deal with something in your past, it always deals with you. It always leaves an imprint, an unseen lesson that impacts the way you make decisions from that moment on. I am incredibly uncomfortable trying new things. Not just because change is hard for lots of people, but because if I’ve never tried something before I haven’t had a chance to master the rules. And if I don’t know the rules, I might find myself in the same situation I ran from back in high school. Mastering the rules of life became my way to deal with things and protect myself.
Understanding my approach to rules and where that fear took hold of me came from carefully looking back at my past. Not with the distorted view of a kaleidoscope. Not with the obsessive gaze of a microscope which can trap you in the past, blowing it up out of scale until it suffocates your present with its false largeness. I looked at the past with a telescope. I went to the God’s observatory tower and under His guidance looked back, traveling light years with my eye and my mind until I could see where I had come from.
I was able to learn who I really was and perhaps even more importantly, upon removing my eye from the gaze, was able to see how far I had come. The past didn’t own me anymore. It didn’t define who I was or secretly control my decisions. It became a classroom that I learned from, a distant land I revisited and conquered with the Lord. A wound I could identify and get healed of. I think that is what God wants us to do. His forgiveness covers completely and I think part of that process is dealing with the past and walking forward into each new day. Shaking the dust off our feet and forgetting the former things because He is doing something new.