Re-Post: What to Do with Your Past

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Lots of people have suggestions about what you should do with your past.  Most ideas sound something like this:

  • Don’t bring it up; why reopen old wounds?
  • My future is ruined because of my past.
  • I keep track of how others treat me so I can do the same to them.
  • Focus on what is working, not on what is broken.
  • Don’t cry over spilt milk.
  • Suck it up.

Some of these statements have an element of truth, but ultimately every one of these approaches will take a toll on you and your relationships.

Before I was a teenager I endured some very difficult experiences (not from my family, gratefully; they are and have been wonderful).  I kept those experiences hidden for at least 8-10 years and carried the shame with me as a teenager.

When I finally let someone know what had happened, I was more relieved than I could have imagined.

Throughout the years since then, whether through friends or relatives or counselors, I have unpacked those experiences and dealt with them, each time gaining greater freedom.  Up until a week ago I felt like I had dredged all of the available wisdom and healing from those experiences.

Last week, however, God showed me something in those tough experiences that I had missed.  I was blown away at how one detail of those experiences had made its way into deep parts of my life without me even knowing it.

As soon as I realized what God was showing me I felt freedom and rest enter my soul, freedom and rest I did not know I needed.

If you are human you probably have had many painful experiences and carry around numerous wounds, some which you probably do not even know you have.

Here is my advice to you:

  • Don’t be afraid to go there.  When you air those wounds and experiences you will ultimately find healing in your present life.
  • Pray.  God will shepherd you through your past if you let him.  Remember that he was betrayed and mistreated beyond our comprehension, yet he was able to rise to a completely new life.  You can rise, too, with his help.
  • Find a safe friend or counselor.  If you need to talk, carefully choose someone rather than talking about your pain with every person you meet.
  • Trust.  The pain of re-opening old wounds is worth it.  If you are truly looking for healing and restoration for you and your relationships, go for it.
  • Let go.  If you have done all you know to deal with your past, let it go.  This is easier said than done, I know, but with God you can do it!  If there is more to be done, God will bring you to that point at the right time.
  • Keep short accounts.  The best way to avoid a painful past to live a healthy present.  Confront issues instead of skirting them.  Forgive everyone.  Love unconditionally.

I am still learning, but God continues to prove that he can revive the tired areas and heal the broken parts in me.  I know the same is possible for you.

How have you successfully dealt with your past?  What experiences do you need to re-visit for your good or the good of those around you?

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What Is Courage?

When I think of courage I often think of war heroes charging the banks of Normandy who died before their feet even reached dry ground.  I think of the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima.  I think of muscle-bound athletes, boundary shattering geniuses, visionary missionaries, and brave teachers in movies like Freedom Writers.

Those people are incredibly brave and courageous, and I am greatly inspired by their examples, but they do not completely define courage.

Recently God has been bringing parts of my past to light and helping me to find more freedom.  I wrote about one aspect of this in my March 12 post What to Do with Your Past.

Discovering a place in my life that needs more freedom can actually be scary for me.

Not long ago an unexpected event brought old experiences to light, old experiences I had not thought about in quite a while; years maybe.  The unexpected surfacing of those experiences from deep within my psyche was not only surprising but also disturbing and disorienting.

I was feeling a lot of fear.

I thought I had dealt with those experiences, prayed over them, and received healing for them.  I thought they were archived never to be seen except in highlight reels and then only if absolutely necessary.

I was only partly right.  I had done all I had known to do, but there was more work to do.

I had two options as I saw it:

  1. Go around the issues and stuff my reaction.
  2. Go through the issues and trust God to make me stronger through it.

In the past I might have chosen Option 1, but I have slowly been learning that better things lie through an issue than around an issue.  In fact, if you go around the issue you will probably find yourself running up against the same issue again and essentially running in circles.

My choice really had to do with how I decided to react to my fear.

Earlier this year Michael Hyatt wrote a blog post entitled Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear.  As I thought about his post and walked through this experience I came up with my own definition for courage.  This definition is probably not original with me, but here it is just the same:

Courage is perseverance in the face of fear.

You and I do not have to charge a bunker or break a record or leap off a mountain in a glide suit in order to demonstrate courage.  All we have to do is take the next step in the right direction in spite of our fear.

By the way, I decided to walk through my issues despite my fear, and the freedom I found on the other side was breathtaking.  God came through!  (Who is surprised here?)

Where in your life do you need to persevere in the face of your fear?

What to Do with Your Past

Lots of people have suggestions about what you should do with your past.  Most ideas sound something like this:

  • Don’t bring it up; why reopen old wounds?
  • My future is ruined because of my past.
  • I keep track of how others treat me so I can do the same to them.
  • Focus on what is working, not on what is broken.
  • Don’t cry over spilt milk.
  • Suck it up.

Some of these statements have an element of truth, but ultimately every one of these approaches will take a toll on you and your relationships.

Before I was a teenager I endured some very difficult experiences (not from my family, gratefully; they are and have been wonderful).  I kept those experiences hidden for at least 8-10 years and carried the shame with me as a teenager.

When I finally let someone know what had happened, I was more relieved than I could have imagined.

Throughout the years since then, whether through friends or relatives or counselors, I have unpacked those experiences and dealt with them, each time gaining greater freedom.  Up until a week ago I felt like I had dredged all of the available wisdom and healing from those experiences.

Last week, however, God showed me something in those tough experiences that I had missed.  I was blown away at how one detail of those experiences had made its way into deep parts of my life without me even knowing it.

As soon as I realized what God was showing me I felt freedom and rest enter my soul, freedom and rest I did not know I needed.

If you are human you probably have had many painful experiences and carry around numerous wounds, some which you probably do not even know you have.

Here is my advice to you:

  • Don’t be afraid to go there.  When you air those wounds and experiences you will ultimately find healing in your present life.
  • Pray.  God will shepherd you through your past if you let him.  Remember that he was betrayed and mistreated beyond our comprehension, yet he was able to rise to a completely new life.  You can rise, too, with his help.
  • Find a safe friend or counselor.  If you need to talk, carefully choose someone rather than talking about your pain with every person you meet.
  • Trust.  The pain of re-opening old wounds is worth it.  If you are truly looking for healing and restoration for you and your relationships, go for it.
  • Let go.  If you have done all you know to deal with your past, let it go.  This is easier said than done, I know, but with God you can do it!  If there is more to be done, God will bring you to that point at the right time.
  • Keep short accounts.  The best way to avoid a painful past to live a healthy present.  Confront issues instead of skirting them.  Forgive everyone.  Love unconditionally.

I am still learning, but God continues to prove that he can revive the tired areas and heal the broken parts in me.  I know the same is possible for you.

How have you successfully dealt with your past?  What experiences do you need to re-visit for your good or the good of those around you?

How to Love Others Better

In order to love others better you need to love God first.

Father and Son

So often in my life I have allowed the approval of others to control how I feel about myself, when God’s opinion is what matters most.

The oxymoron that in order to fully love someone else you need to give them second place in your life behind God is completely true.  No one person can truly fulfill you.  No one person can truly fill your heart.  No one person can perfectly love you.

Except God.

God loves unconditionally, gives grace to those who seek him out, and never fails.  God made you and me, and he knows the condition of our hearts better than we do ourselves.  Naturally, then, he is going to be able to meet our needs better than anyone else.

Once you have submitted control of your life to God and are completely relying on his view of you, then, and only then, will you be able to fully love someone else.

Everyone else is broken just like you and me, and everyone else is looking for fulfillment just like you and me.  You and I know that we cannot fulfill someone else’s every need, so when someone else puts that pressure on us we fold.

But when a God-reliant person meets another God-reliant person, expectations for the relationship settle into their proper place.  Ultimate fulfillment is expected from God, and companionship for the journey is expected from the relationship.

Companionship does not mean perfection.  Companionship means two God-redeemed broken people walking the path of life together and helping each other when the going gets tough.

Christ modeled companionship when he stepped out of heaven and came to earth as a child to walk alongside of us.  In our brokenness and sin he came down and gave us a hand up.

If you want to love others better this Christmas and throughout your life,

  1. Seek God for true fulfillment.
  2. Become a true companion on the journey.

Where are you seeking fulfillment that can only come from God?  How can you become a better companion to those closest to you?

Why I Love Good Friday

This evening, as I was warming up the choir to sing Humble Cross by Joel Raney in our Good Friday service, I explained that Good Friday is probably my favorite service of the year.

Good Friday is more like the life I know.

Christendom spends so much time celebrating victory and the promise of eternal life with Christ that we sometimes forget that we live most of our lives in the “not there yet” places.  A close friend or relative dies suddenly in the prime of life and we are left standing at the foot of the cross, looking up, and asking, “What happened?”  Our spouse comes home and says, “I want a divorce,” and we look at God and say, “What?”

Did we miss something?  Are Christians supposed to live lives full of pain and conflict and the aftermath of sin?  Shouldn’t we get a pass or something?  Did I get on the wrong bus?

In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul says, “We see through a glass darkly,” and in Hebrews 11:39 the writer says, “None of them received what had been promised.”  These Scriptures sound more like real life.  These Scriptures belong in a Good Friday service.

Don’t get me wrong; hope and the victory Christ brings through the resurrection are the life blood of my faith.  But hope and victory mean nothing if you do not need them.  Hope and victory are so meaningful because life can seem so hopeless and unconquerable.

On Good Friday I come to Christ with all of my brokenness, knowing that his day ended with him in the tomb.  He knows what it is like to be waiting for things to turn around.  He knows how it feels to be hurting and looking for a cure.  On Good Friday I feel a unique intimacy with his humanity, and I find peace in that closeness, that identification.

He became like me . . . and died like I will . . .  which means I will rise like he did . . . and live with him.

Now that is hope.  That is true encouragement.  I don’t have to pretend life is perfect, because it’s not, and it wasn’t for him.  I just know the end will be, and that he is right here with me until then.

How does Good Friday encourage you?

Life: the Greatest Editor

Life has a way of editing your writing.  Case in point.  Two years ago I read the Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (a must read about the radical grace of God, written by a recovering alcoholic and former priest) and was moved to write a song based on how the message of the Gospel of grace really sunk in with me.  I was impressed with the way God releases us from our humanity because of his grace when we ask him for forgiveness, regardless of what we are asking forgiveness for.  Manning’s example of outrageous grace is a beautiful one.

The lyrics of “Grace” then showed a stark depravity against the unflinching and progressing grace of God.  I also used Desert Song by Brooke Fraser and Hillsong United as a model because I am thoroughly impressed by the song, both musically and technically.  Here are the lyrics:

Broken we come before you now
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship
Here in your presence stained with sin
dead and decaying deep within our hearts we worship

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

Jesus, your love is life-defying
challenging all we know is right and just
Taking the cross to greater heights
passing the life lived pure and right to us
you overwhelm us

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

When I am speechless, you speak your Word
When I am dying, you work your Strength
When I am failing you complete the task set out for me
You set us free, so free

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
and nothing I can do can set me free

Restored we claim no inner gift
Healed we seek to share the grace you give
knowing there’s no greater praise
than a life redeemed by faith in you
we believe you

Now, two years later, my perspective has changed.  I am still confident in the radical grace of God and thoroughly dependent on it because of all the mistakes I make and sins I commit on a daily basis, although I am making progress, again by God’s grace.  That said, I look at the first verse and I find it not quite theologically sound.

Before Christ we stood before God stained by sing, dead and decaying deep within.   We could not worship because we had not been transformed.  We could not be viewed another way because we were not under the mercy and saving grace of God.  Because, however, we have received Christ and asked him for his grace and mercy in our lives, God no longer views us that way.  yes, we sin, but because of Christ’s blood he sees us as complete and whole and beautiful.  We are alive and growing, not dead and decaying.  As the old hymn says, “The Lord has promised good to me; his Word my hope secures.  He will my shield and portion be as long as life endures.”  We cling to this promise that God remembers our sin no more and shows us mercy by giving us grace in our most dire times of need.

My theology has changed, or perhaps my writing has caught up to my theology.  Time has allowed me to look back at these lyrics and say, “No, that’s wrong.  There is no hope in the original lyric.”

I have also noticed that my ending stanza is stilted and not in line with the rest of the song, so I am scratching that stanza and replacing it with a reprise of the first half of the first verse, still ending on the “V” chord.  Here are the lyrics now, edited to reflect these changes.  I am also going the change the title to either “Your Grace” or “Broken.”

Broken we come before you know
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship
Here in your presence free from sin
holding your promise deep within our hearts we worship

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

Jesus, your love is life-defying
challenging all we know is right and just
Taking the cross to greater heights
giving the life lived pure and right to us
you overwhelm us

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

When I am speechless, you speak your Word
When I am dying, you work your Strength
When I am failing you complete the task set out for me
You set us free, so free

Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Your grace covers me
Jesus, you have come and set me free

Broken we come before you know
Humbled our hearts before you bow in worship

How are you allowing your life to edit your writing?