Wanting a Better Past
November 13, 2014 by Sheree Phillips 1 comments
I’ll never get over this.
I just need to tell somebody about something, and I’m afraid.
Why would God allow this to happen to me?
There’s just too much in my past that will haunt me forever.
How could I have done that! What is wrong with me?
I can never forgive him/her.
Often the moments I hear heart-wrenching comments like this are while sitting on the couch in my living room sharing a glass of sweet tea with women from my church. Like me, they’re dealing with the often-weighty consequences of sins by or against them: pain that runs deep like a knife being slowly twisted through the heart. It’s not always there. But when it’s triggered by something as simple as an overheard comment or as disorienting as a dream about “what happened” the knife pinches and turns….again and again. Finally they feel safe enough to tell someone. These moments are what one man calls having someone share their finest china with me. I don’t want to carelessly handle – and potentially break – something so valuable; so fragile.
I love being a part of a church where people can come out of hiding and connect with fellow sinners and sufferers; and when that confidant is me I know I’m standing on holy ground.
I’m doing some course work with CCEF (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation) and about a week ago I came across a phrase that has been stalking me for days. The author, a secular counselor with decades of experience helping people said, “Sometimes I simply remind patients that sooner or later they will have to relinquish the goal of having a better past” (Irvin Yalom).
You’ve had the experience. You’re reading along and suddenly the words seem to jump off the page. In this circumstance I was rushing through several chapters to get a class assignment completed; when I came to that sentence it was as if time slowed down. I was no longer in a hurry to just get the reading done. Something in my heart said, “Slow down. Pay attention. This is important.”
Friends who have shared their fine china with me in my living room are just like me. I, too, have experienced the deep pain of sins done by me, against me…and by or against those I love. The longer I live the more I’m aware of the broken, fallen, sin-infested world that is groaning for the return of the One who will wipe every tear and make all things new forever. In recent months I have been visiting things in my past I wish could be undone. Wrestling with why God allowed certain things to take place. Longing for at least a partial “do over.” Weeping at times about how sad or confusing or painful or regretful some things have been – and are.
That day God used the common grace of wisdom through a non-Christian to pierce my heart: I’ve been wrestling with feeling entitled to a better past.
A better past. One where some really hard and painful things just didn’t happen. Where kids listened to Mom and Dad fully and didn’t drift into compromise as young adults. Where people we had given our lives to in pastoral ministry hadn’t rejected us during particularly hard times in our life. Where weaknesses in our marriage had been more thoroughly and humbly resolved. Where grandparents didn’t die too young to both enjoy and influence our kids and grandkids. Where partnerships in life and ministry weren’t ruined by misunderstanding or conflict or gossip.
Yep, I’ve had the unknowing goal of having a better past.
This post isn’t going to have a Hallmark movie ending where everything gets beautifully worked out in the end. You’re not about to read how God brought me out of this and showed me the way of escape. I’m still in process. I’m asking the Lord what cravings in my heart have morphed into idols that pull me to worship them instead of Him; what worldly attitudes of entitlement are seducing me to think I deserve(d) better; what treasonous vines have been twisting through my heart that doubt not just God wisdom but also His love in the painful circumstances in which providence placed me at age 6…then 15…then 31…then 46…and now 60.
I don’t know a lot about what God is doing. But one thing I do know and the thing I’m holding onto is this: He was there. Every time I heard bad news, watched horrific suffering, learned something awful about myself or someone else, sat through a painful meeting where scandalous sin was being unpacked, or woke up (again) with that “Lord, please tell me that didn’t really happen” pit in my stomach, God was there. He didn’t desert me. Rather, He came closer.
That “better past” I’ve been wishing for would certainly have been better in many ways! Better but not best because today I know Him more. He was there when others weren’t and even if they had been, no amount of human comfort would have been able to reach into that dark and deep place that only He could penetrate.
He was there. And He’s still here.
Perhaps a future post will give you the end of the story. I’m asking the Lord to help me relinquish the goal of having a better past. Until then, this I know: He will be with me. And today will soon become my past: a past where God was near once again.
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on.
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