Steve’s Devotional – Dealing with the Past
AUGUST 16, 2023
A while back, I received a letter from a radio station owner in North Carolina. He had heard me mention that I had once worked for radio station WPNF in Brevard, North Carolina. He said that he had built that station years before and wondered if I remembered some of the people he had known there. Isn’t it funny how an incident—the unexpected meeting of an old friend, a song, a particular smell or a letter—will trigger memories?
It’s sort of like opening a door to a room you haven’t visited for a long time. You look at one thing, then another, and another. Pretty soon you’re lost among all the memories that room recalls.
I’m not very big on nostalgia. (It’s sort of like going into a bakery when one is on a diet—it smells good, but that’s all you get.) So I hardly ever sit down and consciously call up memories. I’ve always said that the past is past and that people who live in the past hardly ever do anything in the present.
But I suspect one of the major reasons I don’t like to remember is because the pleasant memories are always mixed with some painful ones. Fused with the memories of friends, family, joy and laughter are memories of failure, sin, hurt and tears. Because you don’t get the one without the other, I just let the dead bury the dead and keep on trucking. Memories are best left buried. And yet, they don’t often stay buried. They blow away the dirt and rise up in our minds as either uninvited, but pleasant guests, or unexpected and unwelcome intruders, depending on what they make us recall.
Getting the letter from the station owner in North Carolina was one of those times. After reading it, all the memories surrounding that little radio station came cascading through my mind. It was a small slice of my past with so many good memories. For example, it was the time when I met and fell in love with Anna. I remember dedicating records to her during my show. I also remember the joy of learning the broadcasting business, the awesomeness of the mountains, and the warmth of new friendships. I remember my first years of college there, and the discovery that, contrary to my previously held belief, I had a reasonably good mind and could think. I remember the life-changing experience of being elected president of the student government of the small college I attended. (It was no big deal. It was an extremely small class. One of us had to be president, but it was the first time I felt affirmed by anyone other than my mother.) I remember the crispness of the air and smell of hay on a hayride.
But there were other memories too, and some not so pleasant. I remember the growing monster of doubt and the fear that people would discover that I wasn’t what they thought I was. I remember the dread of failure and specter of shame and insecurity. I remember trying to pray and admitting, only to myself, that perhaps there was no one there to hear. I remember some people I hurt and some others I failed. I remember leading a campus revolt against a good and godly man, and the horrible realization that I had hurt him deeply. I remember my intellectual arrogance and the inner disquiet over my future.
It was hard to stop the memories, but I didn’t dwell too long on them. As I forcibly brought my mind back to the present, I remembered God. “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you…” (Deuteronomy 8:2). “Father,” I prayed, “I don’t remember much about you during those days. I didn’t know your name, and you seemed so far away.”
The Father reminded me of the story of how little boys were initiated into manhood in one of the American Indian tribes. The small boy was taken from his family and led into the forest. He was told that he must spend an entire night in the forest alone. You can imagine the horror of it all. Every sound something to fear and every shadow a monster. But, as the sun would rise over the mountains, the boy’s first sight would be his father. All night long, in the silence and just out of the boy’s vision, his father had stood, bow and arrow ready, watching over and protecting his son. With incredible delight, the boy would run to his father, shouting, “You were there all along!”
“Father, you have been there all along for me too.”
God is, of course, the God of the present. I don’t know how people who don’t know him deal with life. He is also the God of the future. To know him is to trust the future to him. But sometimes we forget that he is the God of the past as well.
The Bible teaches that God knew us and loved us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…” (Jeremiah 1:5). The psalmist writes, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm 139:13, 15-16).
Pretty incredible, huh? Even before God hung the stars, hollowed out the valleys, and made the mountains, we were on his mind. That means that every circumstance, every sin, every failure, every success and every hurt was a part of his plan and love. That means that he knew me even before I knew his name. That means that he loved you before you were ever born. It means that when Christians remember, they don’t remember the past; they remember the Father’s dealings with them in the past.
As you know, I get a lot of letters from folks who have trouble dealing with the past. Some of the letters tell of sexual and physical abuse. Some tell of alcoholic, dysfunctional families, and great hurt. Others confess their secret sin and wonder if God could still love them. Some tell me about past failure and loss.
Perhaps the past haunts you sometimes. Perhaps there is pain there and it hurts to remember. You don’t have to live in the past; but, if you’re a Christian, you can remember, you can see his hand. You can accept the past because he has accepted you—past and all.
Isaiah, speaking God’s word to God’s people in a time of great travail, wrote:
Remember these things, O Jacob,
and Israel, for you are my servant;
I formed you; you are my servant;
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud
and your sins like mist;
return to me, for I have
Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;
shout, O depths of the earth;
break forth into singing, O mountains,
O forest, and every tree in it!
For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
And will be glorified in Israel. Isaiah 44:21-23
He loves you. He really does. He always has and always will. When you remember, don’t forget to remember that.
Time to Draw Away
Read Psalm 105 & Ephesians 2:8-22
How has God shown his love to you? Take a moment to remember those times in the past when you experienced God with you, protecting you, loving you. Thank him…and look to him for the future. He loves you. He really does. After all, it is who he is. “God is love” (1 John 4:16).