What About the Past?
JANUARY 11, 2022
I was talking with a friend today about the past. Not our past together, I mean the past. The dark places. The places with teeth.
The dank, malodorous dungeons that we store our worst memories. The memories that are so bad we either pitch a tent there because we can’t look away, or that we turn from, close our eyes, put our fingers in our ears, and try to forget they happened altogether.
I’d had a really rough week, so the conversation I had with my friend hit close to home. Without going into a lot of detail (you’re so nosy), the past experience I had is something that not only hurt a lot, but was one of those things that happened so often you start losing the will to fight when it happens again.
Like my experience, some bad things like to come back every so often to remind you that they’re still around. Others are so wicked and awful that they only have to happen once to make their sick point. Still others are attached to people we love or are supposed to love us, and every time we see them it’s like a poke in the eye.
All this stuff upends us. It changes us and confuses us—causes us to make poor decisions based on anger, fear or just plain ignorance. It causes us to doubt God’s love. It makes us bitter.
When my friend and I were talking, she brought up a really bad experience she’d just had. And it was bad. Like actually finding out there’s a real monster under your bed, bad. But then she said that—in general—she was moving in a positive direction. While she’d lost a lot, she had a lot to save and repair too. That God had provided her with so much.
Genuine trust and hope in the midst of pain. Why didn’t I think of that?
This opened something up in me. Like finally getting a stubborn spy glass to turn, and seeing the horizon come into focus. Perhaps it was… hope.
I had been so focused on all the bad, when there’s so much good in my life too. Often, God is standing right next to us and we just don’t look that way.
I’m bad about that: being so angry at the past for stealing so much that I waste the present.
In C.S. Lewis’, The Last Battle, Aslan the lion and the children find a group of dwarfs in a tight circle, facing one another, claiming to be in the dark, in a “pitch black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.” But it isn’t dark, and Lucy encourages them to “look up, look round, can’t you see the sky and flowers—can’t you see me?” She then picks some wild violets and puts them under one of the dwarf’s noses. He flinches, berating her for sticking filthy dung under his nose.
I don’t want that to be me. But, sometimes, that’s so me. Perhaps I fear that any good I accept as reality would take away from my desire to feel bad for myself. (And feeling bad for myself feels so good.) So, I don’t see the good on purpose, like those stupid dwarves.
“They will not let us help them,” says Aslan. “Their prison is only in their minds.”
Yeah, the past can be painful. And that pain is very real, and we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist any more than we should forget the goodness in our lives. But we can’t let it own us. We can’t let it define our reality. We have to, as Steve Brown says, kiss our demons on the mouth. And, if we allow him, God will define our reality with love—for Him, for others, and for ourselves—not regret.