We all have a past and with it, a good question to ask is: ‘What is my relationship with my past? Am I free of it or am I bound by it’? Few of us would deny that we have been formed by our past, but does it still control us or does it liberate us? We may try to forget or deny our past, but it will always be with us – for it is the uniquely personal foundation on which we each stand.
We may seek to blur the effect of our past by simply going with our need for comfort and doing things as we’ve always done them. Choosing the less adventurous route to avoid the unfamiliar or unknown is to be dead in the repeated patterns we have always preferred. Since what suits us only dulls down our precious God-given gift of choice, we may easily waste it on small, safe ideas of life. So instead of giving real flavour and joy to the lives of others, fears from our past keep us inconspicuous and ineffective as the ‘light of our world’.
Much current psychology asserts that we are formed and driven by our past and cannot escape it. The best we can hope for is to accommodate ourselves to it. The therapy seeks to explore the options we have, given an immovable past.
Jesus presents us with a different scenario. When asked was it his sin or his parent’s sin that resulted in a man’s blindness, he answered, ‘No one’s sin (past) caused it. This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’ John 9:2. The fatalistic view of being a prisoner of our past was replaced with a momentous possibility, one where God uses it as a lens through which we see Him at work in our lives. Far from being a prison, it is a layered story giving foundation and substance to our lives. Though we cannot change our past, we can CHOOSE to let it inform and empower how we live rather than debilitate us.
Jesus is always stretching us to take risks in our areas of discomfort as in ‘love your enemy.’ We often avoid the passages where He challenges us, but He is serious when He tells us to ‘leave everything’ and live as he did. Are we prepared to change how we choose to engage with life and hold things lightly so we can move freely at His bidding?
When we look back on our lives, we will see that even though there were ups and downs, we will be glad that we chose to take risks. We became fully alive as we dared to do things differently. None of us want to simply wind down into meaningless repetition of past choices and be like ‘salt that’s lost its’ flavour’. Let us keep flavouring life all our days, bringing joy in the lives we have an impact on.
Our conscious mind keeps very specific memories that fit into our sense of self and which sustain out behaviour now. Our childhood wounds inform us, but need not continue to control who we are currently. Jesus gave us new guidelines for how to live, yet He knows that we have been hurt by life. Thus we have made assumptions around our early experiences and created behaviours that have become controlling. We may have told ourselves that we don’t have a choice, because that’s how we’ve always been, but we need to allow our choices to be challenged by the other picture that Jesus gives us. When we tell ourselves things that steal our lives, like, “I can’t”, “I’m always too busy”, “I’m too old”, we take away hope for our future and remain stuck and fearful.
Learning a new skill will have its’ discomforts, and so too will our risking to choose new behaviours. We may simply so dislike the feelings of uncertainty that we prefer to go back to how we’ve always done things. Our fear of pain and discomfort can stop us from risking. Our background ‘voices’ that have told us lies about what’s possible, drown out God’s seemingly crazy invitation to, “Get out of the boat.”
The enemy’s strong counter winds seek to intimidate and thwart God’s best for us. Thus we so need stillness to hear the often drowned-out, still, small voice. Jesus keeps encouraging us to risk and let go of whatever keeps us from an abundant life.
Much of what we normally choose is due to our past. Though this strong reference point is very different in every person, it feels normal to each of us. We may not realise the extent to which it remains the lens through which we interpret everything.
Jesus wants to heal us and to help us grow to become more fully who He made us to be. He has witnessed all that we’ve experienced so He understands all that has controlled, limited and stressed us and distorted our insights about ourselves and others. He loves and accepts us as we are and understands why we react as we do. But He is not wanting us to still be living an extension of the life we had 20 or 30 years ago. Instead, He wants us to respond and choose in a fresh and free way – informed by past experiences, but able to be present to the new moments He blesses us with.
We do not need to keep on with the unhelpful patterns we have learnt. Our past can inform our present as to why we do what we do, but we are not bound to endlessly repeat past patterns in our present reality.
Much of our choice comes from feelings we have around something. We tend to choose according to what is familiar, and to what makes us feel comfortable. When we feel at home with our feelings then that is usually what we choose to do. So we carry out our past feelings around something into our now. This means that our tomorrow is already decided. We aren’t moving into an empty space for our feelings have gone ahead to determine how we will be. If we do not slow down and update our past emotions, we are allowing them to shape our reality now.
We can be thankful for the good that has shaped us in our past, for through it we have gained a wealth of experience. But tomorrow is a new day, not meant to be a repeat of the hundreds of days we have already lived.
We have each developed a emotional-relational landscape. We want things to be “like that.” But the trouble is, that when we categorize and stereotype, we simply rehash what we’ve chosen before and so kill our precious new moments. We are each being invited to remain like a young child in this – for they do not allow expectations for how the moment must be to fill their present reality. They simply look, receive, react, and bless us because they are so curious and free to choose how to be in every moment.
Let us, like a child, take steps towards entering each moment with expectancy rather than pre-decided expectations, and walk open to the surprises God has in store for us.
Every day we each are faced with choices. If we take time to reflect on how we make these, we soon see that what’s deep in our hearts is affecting them. We need not be captives of our past. Our early life has indeed shaped us, but we still can change how we are choosing to follow Jesus’ way. It might seem that we have made fresh choices because we have a new job, are in a new relationship, have moved to a new country, but we might just have left one situation for another and in time see that actually the same issues are emerging.
We might still be choosing according to other peoples’ dream for us, or seeking to be acknowledged, be successful or popular. As God asked the Israelites, in each choice we are being asked to choose between life and death. We choose death if our choice is not truly in tune with who God made us to be, if it’s not enlivening to our deepest selves or in line with God’s Kingdom.
The important thing in our lives is to keep asking ourselves, “What do I really, really want to do with my ‘one wild and precious life’?” (Mary Oliver). This question helps us find our priorities for how we use our time and where we put our energies. It gets us in touch with our deepest desires, so we can start to choose more wisely from the countless options before us.
We all have developed ways of creating our present reality, ways of seeing ourselves and others. We are used to these patterns, but we have yet to discover our best, fullest selves. These ways of living will limit and imprison us if we simply go down the same predictable track each day.
God wants us to have a meaningful and abundant life. He sees our preferred reference points – for example, like our always being conscious of what others think, our need for worldly success, and to prove ourselves, etc. – and knows that following these will never lead us to our fuller selves. God has a different reference point for each of us. He knows that we will find it in our relationship with Him being first and foremost. He wants us to be life-givers, light-bearers in this dark world. It will take courage to leave the security of our chosen reference points and to step by step develop a profound relationship with the One who knows us best.
God knows that the only thing that gives us meaning is to be meaningful in others’ lives. So He says that in the way we love the least important, is the way that we love Him. It is this profound, costly way of giving our lives away that pleases God. All the reasons that we use to justify not doing this will sadly stop us from becoming our fullest selves.
As we saw last week, following blindly can lead us astray. But there is also another way of following that is authentic, personal, and usually along a road that is less travelled.
At some points in our lives we all hear the call to take this road.. We may hear it loud and clear, or as soft as a whisper in rush hour traffic. For some it may even spark childlike curiosity and wonder, but if we follow this call, sooner or later all of us find that staying on the road is not a simple task.
Everyone online wants you to follow them, but when Jesus says “Follow me”, a different drama unfolds. We go from small distractions which can fill our day and steal our life to a grounding call, to taking ourselves and our choices as seriously as he does. If our belief is that Jesus calls us to become our true self, so that we can follow him in healing our world, then our choices will be clear.
The road is our gift, it brings us reality and offers us choices.
Bruegel’s painting of the blind leading the blind would be ridiculous if it was not so true. In this age of information our ears are often full with news and advice that comes at us from all sides, fighting for our attention and engagement. It is so important to stop and take a deep breath and to re-asses who and what is informing our lives. We can decide who to hear from more and who to hear from less.
So much of our awareness is shaped by pace-setters, ground-breakers, artistes and people who shock us with the new. Following, liking and linking with them can make us feel all-powerful in making choices, but where do they lead us? Where were we lead last year? Did they lead us somewhere fulfilling? Did they lead us somewhere more authentic? Maybe. Maybe not.
The risk we need to take in becoming ourselves is not following any media personality but taking a chance and following our divine artist and friend. The one who really knows us because he made us. The one who has our best interest at heart and is willing to walk through anything with us to help us become truly ourselves.
If we reflect on our habitual responses when someone hurts us, we see that each of us has developed our own ways of dealing with these. If our memory still hurts, as it did initially, we know then that we still have an open wound. Our coping patterns of rebellion or compliance, for example, have not lead us to our complete healing.
When we feel offended it is usually that something someone says or does now reminds us of painful issues from before. We feel the same feelings as we did when we initially got hurt. It may come as a surprise when we overreact, but this is because today’s issues hook yesterday’s. How we were treated before affects our beliefs about ourselves and our ways of connecting with others currently. We may, for example, have been belittled in class and now find ourselves blocked if we have to speak in public. As a child we may have been allowed no voice and were silenced and humiliated. Now we find ourselves doing what was done to us. We may be surprised when we shout to feel powerful. Someone else might have always controlled our choices and we mistrust ourselves making them now.
As we intentionally engage early memories and see the patterns that went with them, the more we will be empowered to choose what we want or do not want for our lives now. As adults it’s our job to manage our relationships and not simply to repeat what was done to us. Our ways of loving can become deeper as our relational patterns are transformed. We do not need to be victims and remain stuck in our norm.
When we struggle with our outer community it’s often reminding us of something painful in our inner community that we haven’t found healing for yet. The Holy Spirit keeps bringing people into our lives to awaken us to unhealed areas of our heart. When we co-operate with Him, He heals our wounds and makes us whole and free indeed.
All of us carry wounds and we each have our own ways of dealing with them. Some are not easy to brush away. These often lie in our subconscious until someone says or does something that exposes them again. We may try to keep going while our emotion pain tank is getting too full. It may surprise us when it unclogs and overflows and we become over-sensitive or depressed. A sure sign that we are carrying too much is when we just can’t receive another’s pain.
We need to find ways to clean out what’s stored in our pain tanks. We know that not all pain we receive impacts us to the same degree. We take hurt differently depending on whether it is from someone we love or someone we hardly know. We feel offence more deeply if it’s an attack on our person or if we are let down by someone close to us. Instead of addressing it we may try to cope by avoiding that individual, or may choose to pull back and not risk relating again. We may move home, job, change friends or chose sides against the offender.
We all have seen how harbouring offence can be a way to give us identity and meaning. We hear of long-standing vendettas that continue through generations, causing bitterness and cruelty to both sides that refuse to forgive. Here old wounds are continually re-opened, so they never heal.
It does not help to pretend offence didn’t happen and that it doesn’t hurt. Pain does not disappear by trying to drown out our experiences. We may well have to give ourselves time to grieve our real losses and hurts. We are not however alone in this process. Jesus knew we would have trouble in this world. He uses our pain to draw our attention to our wounds that He has carried on the cross, and is wanting to heal. He so graciously wants to partner with us to transform our pain and to then to make it into a gift that can help others find healing too.