Here’s the scenario. Stop me if you’ve been there and know how it goes. More accurately, stop me when you recognize that you’ve been there and know how it goes.
It’s just a normal day. You’re driving to work or mowing your lawn or watching a mindless TV show while you wind down in the evening. Or maybe – gasp! – you’re in church on Sunday listening to the music or the sermon.
Then suddenly, without warning, there’s the little clickety-clickety-click sound as the projector in your head kicks in and the canvas screen of your conscience lights up. Splashed across that screen, in detail more vivid than you care to see, is some past mistake or moral failure. Suddenly the traffic fades, the drone of the mower is distant, the TV show or (Pastors, please skip to the next paragraph before reading any further) the sermon you were listening to has become the incoherent ‘waa wawaa waa’ of Charlie Brown’s school teacher (whose name, for you trivia buffs, was Mrs. Donovan).
It can be agonizing when our own sub-conscious reminds us of a past that our conscious mind would rather forget. I can remember times over the years getting hit with my past in this way, sometimes to the point where an audible groan would escape my lips involuntarily, as I tried to shut it down.
So what do we do? How do we keep that screen from coming to life on us? We know the past is past. We know that our purpose is to look forward to what God is calling us to and not backward to what we used to be or the mistakes we made. But that doesn’t always keep the old memories from spinning up.
I don’t know that there’s a fool-proof answer. But I do know that God doesn’t intend us to be enslaved by highlight reels of yesteryear.
Remember Galatians 5:1? “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
When Paul wrote this he was addressing a church that was being drawn back into ‘religion’ (a.k.a., performance and rule-keeping). They – like all of us – tended to define themselves by what they did or didn’t do rather than who they were in Christ. Paul was saying “Don’t go back to that place where the highlight or lowlight reels of your past, or the checkboxes that you check in the present, imprison you. Jesus says you are free, so live free!”
Try this: the next time the memories start to flow, resist the knee-jerk reaction is to push them away or pull the plug. Watch the film. Allow the mistakes of your past to play through. Accept them.
And then, paraphrase 1 Cor. 6:11 and speak these words: “such was I; but I was washed, but I was sanctified, but I was justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Say it again. Say it aloud if you need to.
Because that’s who you are! You are made new by Him. Even when the memories and regrets pop up, or even when some of the weaknesses still tug at you – remember who you are, not who you were.
Don’t be intimidated by your past. Don’t be disqualified by it. Don’t be haunted by it. Face it, and break free from it.
In other words, live like new!