Fighting with the Past

Wrestling with Life Series

The last couple of weeks we have been talking about what we wrestle with in life. Realizing that life is a wrestling match and it’s about what we learn and how we grow in the process.

I think there are two more things that everyone wrestles with at one time or another—the past and the future. We will talk about the future, well…in the future…but for the present let’s face the past.

Facing the past…for some this might not be hard. My husband, for example, hasn’t ever given much time to processing the past except to be thankful for it. He doesn’t need to. For the most part his growing up life was the peaceful, stable, quiet solidarity of a work with your hands kind of family. There isn’t much that needs processing. Facing the past for me, however, is a different story.

The environment I grew up in, defined by relational dysfunction, was like living in the midst of land mines—never knowing when one would go off but knowing they would. It was emotionally exhausting to say the least. Experiencing so much upheaval and angst as a kid, a teenager, and a young adult, during the phases of my life when I was trying to make sense out of the world and how I functioned in it…left me with a lot to process.

What I’ve learned is that you have to process the past otherwise you’ll just end up repeating it.

Wrestling with the past is about the process of forgiving it. It’s about releasing all the wishes for it to be different and the blame for what it was. The wishes and blame keep you trapped in it—forever tied to the past as it cripples your future.

Forgiving the past doesn’t mean reconciling with all the people in it. If the past involves unsafe people who have lost the right to trusted with the inner workings of your heart and life, forgiving the past isn’t necessarily about letting them in again. Forgiving the past is about forgiving the experiences of the past. It’s about acknowledging the brokenness we operate in. It’s about growing aware of how love might have shown up in the brokenness not looking like love at all. And…honestly…it’s about forgiving God from the blame of letting it all happen in the first place.

I can honestly say I hold no ill feelings towards my family. I know beyond a doubt they did for me the best they knew how, in the places they were, with the resources they had—what more could I have asked from them?

As much as there are things I missed and things from my experience I can blame for why I am as I am—it also gets most of the credit as well. I wouldn’t be as mindful about life, relationships, and faith if it weren’t for my past. I wouldn’t remember to appreciate the small things, be aware of the environment in my home or as intentional in guiding and protecting my relationships with my kids and husband. Like a seed that has to dig through the soil to grow, so we do as well when we face the past and wrestle with it until it no longer stands in our way.

My mom once told me that she finally understood what the Old Testament meant when it talked about God punishing the “children for the sins of their parents to the 3rd and 4th generation.” She had always thought that it was mean—why would God punish children? But then she understood—the choices our parents make have consequences and impact those that come after them…out to the 3rd and 4th generation. We see the truth of this all around us. The only way to change it is to face the past, process the pain, forgive those involved, accept where it has brought us in life and then move forward from there.

We can, with God as the power, change the course of the river our past has set us on. We have the ability to stand and say, “This may have been my story, but it will not be my children’s story.” Changing the course of my family’s river is what I have spent my life doing up to this point. As I write this…I realize…it is done. I have stood in the river, through God’s grace and power, and changed the course for my next generations.

Facing the past and wrestling with it has been a 25+ year journey for me. I didn’t miss the present while I was wrestling with the past. It was from the wrestling the present grew—one giving life to the other and the other motivating the first. Here I am, finally finished… I don’t want to move lest I break the magic in this moment.

If I am finished with what I have spent the major part of my whole life doing, I am left with only one question…what does the future hold?

Are you avoiding the past? Are you facing it? Or are you wrestling with it?

What and who do you need to forgive?

How are you learning and growing from it?