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Embracing a Past You'd Rather Forget...but Can't
A vignette of my past
I grew up in Chile, South America where driving a car was risky business especially in the cities. Traffic rules didn't apply and courtesy was unheard of. Needless to say that it was only in the country that my dad would allow me behind the wheel of his truck, and that only when he was riding shotgun. One day, I stalled the truck while straddling a railroad track. No big deal, except about then we heard a whistle as the train came into view around the bend. I calmly restarted the engine and drove off just in time. Then I freaked! I don't remember attempting to drive much after that.
Fast forward about seven years. I'm now a senior in high school. My parents are back in Chile, but I'm in a boarding school in Asheville, NC. The've left me to the care of an uncle. It was to his home that I'd go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. So it was to him I turned to teach me to drive and finally get my license. He was happy to oblige.
It took three tries at DMV before I walked away with the coveted card. The first time I drove over a curb. The second time I took the entire test with the hand break on. Wondered why I couldn't get the car out of second gear. No automatic shift in those days. Anyway, the officer was not at all impressed.
Now I've been driving for fifty years with only a few minor mishaps. Of my own making, of course.
In a fit of anger and discouragement I complained to my uncle that God had it in for me. Couldn't understand why it had been so hard to get what every teen in my life had already had for several years. I remember his words to this day and have repeated them often to others. "When you make a mistake or fail, even when you sin, God doesn't turn the clock back to before the incident, but rather shapes it into a platform on which He builds you into the person He wants you to be."
Far more horrendous
Compared to the experiences of others, my silly story runs the risk of being offensively inane. There's the woman who married her man only to find out he's a maniac, that after the birth of three children. Or the guy who squandered his life savings on a lottery ticket. Or the young person who did well over four years of college and a few more in grad-school only to find himself unemployable. Then there's the father who worked night and day to bring home a decent paycheck, but had little time for his children. Now he's aging and they're distant.
The reader will add a dozen more stories of past mistakes, some deliberate some unwitting, but now irreversible. What they all have in common is that no matter how penitent one may be or how sincerely sorry, there's absolutely nothing one can do to turn back the clock. Perhaps the younger person can look at such incidents and comfort himself in that he's got plenty of life left to do better and drown out youthful excesses. But the older person will find that pipe dream of little comfort.
As far as the East is from the West
So what does that mean if all I have left is the bitter consequences of events I can't undo? When in the depth of despair God's promises sometimes feel like a taunt. Here's the broader context of Psalm 103.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:11-14)
The whole psalm is worth reading. Clearly a connection analogous to a father/son relationship is envisioned here. Every wise parent knows that allowing a child to experience in a measured way the consequences of his peccadillo is a great training plan. The assurance of Psalm 103 is that our Heavenly Father will not condemn us for our sin, however there's no hint that he won't allow us to experience their consequences in this life. What's certain is that He is compassionate and knows our limits. He will not allow those consequences to destroy us. So Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (I Cor.10:13)
It boils down to faith
Do you believe God's got it under control? or not? Do you know Him as your Heavenly Father? or not? Do you accept his loving management of your life? or not? Do you look for his presence in your life? Or do you just want his goods?
If it's the latter of each of these couplets, I'm not surprised that your past overwhelms you and kicks you into the pit. But if, in fact, you embrace God though faith in his Son, Jesus Christ, and know him in the manner I suggest above your past need not undo you.
Certainly there are lingering pangs of remorse, moments of sadness over past foolishness and passing anxieties over what could have been. But God's active presence not only makes them manageable, but makes you able to enjoy his blessing.
I've stopped asking God to make things better for me or for those I love. If He's already in loving control my present experience is a good one. Instead I ask him to open my eyes to his presence. I want to gaze with the eye of faith on the Lord's "horses and charriots of fire" surrounding all who call upon him.