“Guilt…the gift that keeps on giving.” Erma Bombeck
We have all done things in our past that could serve as excuses to exit any calling we have to serve others. If we haven’t disqualified ourselves, others will do it for us given enough time through the use of guilt.
Even Paul, the great apostle from the Bible had to deal with guilt. He says in his letter to the Philippians: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12-14)
If you have ever read this man’s story, he has a lot to feel guilt about from his past. Ordering the stoning and persecution of the early Christians for a start. Many of them sons and fathers of the people he was now working alongside as a believer were probably killed because of his hatred for Christians earlier in his life. But if you will allow me to paraphrase, this is what I believe Paul is saying in the Bible verse quoted here. To me he is saying, “I must not let what I’ve done in the past define me. I have to strain forward toward whatever it is that God has for me to finish now on this earth. I have to look beyond what is on the road of my past, or I won’t be able to move ahead for God.” Paul knew what we need to know. He knew that he could not undo his past; he could only do his best today.
We talk with people often about having a “victim” mindset. Seeing yourself as a victim means your identity comes from the belief that the past is more powerful in your life than the present. It is the belief that your failures of yesterday are more real than the reality of God’s good in you today. My friend Cheryl Knight says, “God’s good is bigger than my bad.”
Sometimes we nurse the false belief that other people from long ago are responsible for who we are now. Either from the emotional pain they have caused us, or our place of emotional stuckness now. Honestly, don’t we generally accept what Christ has done for us up until this point? We look at the cross and we have a blind spot….The obstacle of really messing up blinds us from the work of Christ’s deep forgiveness for us. We lean forward, move from side to side, stand on tip-toe or look underneath the painful obstacle. Then we may hear ourselves say, “Unconditional relentless forgiveness? Maybe for the other person. For me? Uhmmmm, nope. Can’t see it.” Then we pick up the old baggage of the past and walk away without a second glance. Believing and living the lie that we are hopelessly blocked from grace and defined by our sin or the sin of others.
Dear friend, there is work to be done as we press forward to the higher calling of today. We will get lost behind the blind spot and miss a meaningful and joyful life if we are hauling around yesterday’s baggage. Paul knew he couldn’t do it either. Because he chose not to let his past determine his identity, God was able to shine HIS light right through the center of Paul’s life. Obstacles gone.
In Thornton Wilder’s play The Angel that Troubled the Waters, there is a physician who is about to finally make it to the water’s edge where healing is promised. But an angel blocks him from entering the healing waters, saying “Draw back, physician: this moment is not for you.” The physician is devastated and confused until the angel explains: “Without your wound, where would your power be? The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve. Draw back.”
Until most of us have been broken on the wheels of living we are not able to be the sort of wounded soldiers so sorely needed in Love’s service. So if you do have to look back at your past, your sorrow and pain, or your own sin, let it only be with the desire to use your past to help others see God’s love through your own brokenness. That will clear away the blind spot. That will bring you joy.
(Next week, the final lesson in the series, “Remedy for the Worry Driven Life.”)