Does your past define you?
Most of us have skeletons in our closets. But when we don’t let go of those bones-from-the-past we become slaves to, and victims of, a false belief: the belief that our past defines us. That what we have “done” is who we are and that we cannot break free from that association.
When you spend your life constantly looking back at past mistakes, feeling false guilt or shame, and defining yourself as unworthy, not only is it disheartening, paralyzing and restricting, it’s outright wrong – dare I say – sinful? (although that’s a term that is being shunned in our politically-correct world).
Feeling shame is sinful? That’s a pretty strong claim. Did I lose you already?
Let me explain.
Shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior” (Oxford Dictionaries.com).
This could be from some action that you have taken, some decision you made, some choice you involved yourself in, or even false shame arising from a set of circumstances over which you had no control, but from which you have assumed guilt and shame (eg survivor’s guilt, victims of rape or other personal injury, inflicted by another person).
For me, it stems from significant life choices that I made without seeking godly advice; ignoring guidance from people who knew me best. The repercussions of those choices last a lifetime. I’m not going into details now but they were really big, really bad, decisions; 35 years later there are still consequences. I carry a truck load of guilt and shame surrounding those poor choices.
Shrouding yourself with guilt and shame for three decades doesn’t do much for “self-esteem” (which is a whole ‘nother topic). That cloud of guilt serves to suffocate any attempt at living a full Christian life — always — always! — the reminders surface: how could YOU be of any use? — you are no good! – *you* made those bad choices! — you are worthless!
Those voices choke out any thought of living for God; of living out a godly purpose. Those voices shove you back into the closet to hide — or prompt you to keep a mask handy as you greet family, friends and neighbours with false cheer. No one must know of the mask. You get really good at being ‘genuine’. But the voice knows: you’re a fraud. An imposter. You’re not even good at pretending because, in the end, *you* still know.
So, how is this sinful? When we spend our lives listening to these false voices from the past we’re choosing to go our own way, just like the Hebrews in the desert. They turned from listening to God and grumbled amongst themselves and ended up fashioning their own god: a golden calf. We read that now and shake our heads. God Himself was leading them! How could they believe this statue, this object created by men, would do them any good?
Likewise, when we choose to dwell in the past we’ve crafted a god of sorts – one that doesn’t have a physical shape, perhaps, but a god nonetheless. It may look different for each person – your past is not my past, is not her past – but when it becomes a god it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It’s a god to us if we are devoted to it — spend time worshiping it — cling to it.
“My past isn’t a god! I don’t worship it!” you say.
Sorry, but (I suspect) it is. And you do.
(And so do I).
Anytime our focus is on ourselves, whether it’s our deep, dark past or our irritation at something our neighbour is doing (*cough*) – any time our gaze lingers too long on our own concerns, however justified we feel it is, we’ve taken our eyes off the Lord, the One we are commanded to worship with body, mind, heart and soul. To serve other gods…whether turning melted jewelry into idols or immersing ourselves in our past…is a sin.
It’s easy to get stuck living in this swamp of discouragement. But we’re not meant to live like this!
Your past may be true in the sense that it happened – but if it’s still controlling your present then it’s not a present truth. It’s a ghost – you’re looking at something that doesn’t exist. It’s over. Confess, if you haven’t already. Yes, the consequences may still be active in your life but take assurance that your mistakes have been cast away as far as the east is from the west. If you are a Christian, you are a new creature in Christ. You have everlasting life – and it starts here and now!
You are not your past. Stop letting it define your present – stop looking behind you and lift your eyes up! Philippians 4:8 reminds us: whatsoever things are true–honest–just–pure–lovely–think on THESE things.
Remember that the next time you’re tempted to go down that old road of dusty bones: is it true? Is it good? Is it lovely?
Sweep up those bones of past mistakes and toss them in the bin.