Friday, March 19, 2010

Redefining the Past and Letting Go

Today is philosophical Friday. It’s a serious post, folks. A life lesson I’m in the process of learning and mastering. May it give you some sort of insight.

It’s funny how memories of the past can take on a life of their own. If you’re cursed with the bug of self-recrimination, as I have been for much of my life, you tend to rehearse the past and try to find out where you went wrong.

Reviewing past events is not always a bad habit. Without any self-examination at all, how would you grow? How would you change for the better? Christian psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud describes repentance as “getting it,” and then because you “get it,” you make a change. I agree with him. I don’t think you can have an a-ha moment without taking a second look at events that didn’t go so well for you.

But excessive rehearsal, as though you can fix the past, is futile. I am learning to let go of this behavior and give myself a break. Right now, I’m more inspired than ever to do so.

Not too long ago, I lost my brother. As part of my grieving process, I am looking at my past to identify anything I still need to grieve. That’s the overachiever in me—get it all over with at once. I’m doing some exercises designed to help me grieve and let go. One of them made me remember the first church I attended after I gave my life to Jesus Christ.

This church seemed fine on the surface, but underneath the surface it was very messed up. The pastor was abusive to his wife verbally and physically. He was abusive to his children, mostly the stepson from the wife’s previous marriage. He was a control freak who demanded total obedience and ostracized those who rejected his control. It was a real bad mess. I ended up getting kicked out of the church, although I was planning to leave anyway. The pastor just insisted on beating me to the punch so he could feel good about himself.

Over the years, I’ve regretted some of my time there. I've felt that I was far too trusting, took things way too much at face value, and didn’t speak up for myself enough. I’ve beaten myself up over it. You know the drill: “I should have done this. I should have said that. I should have refused to put up with that.” But I'm looking at this past experience differently now, because I had an a-ha moment. I got it.

I asked myself (as part of my grief exercise), “How would things have been different if...?"  What an amazing question! It occurred to me that if I had been less trusting and left that church sooner, I would also have left disillusioned and cynical about God. I would have concluded that all pastors are liars and the Christian faith is not worth much. I might never have set foot in a church again, on the assumption that “spiritual” people are lunatics. I’d have quit.

But my youthful idealism led me to be trusting. As a result, I stuck around the church, and I got to know God and the Bible pretty well. When I left the church, I left with my faith and my relationship with God intact. I think that’s impressive. God preserved me, right in the midst of the abuse and madness. And then He delivered me out of it.

When I realized that, I also realized that He preserved my parents too, and my brother. God kept us all safe in His arms, and none of us quit on God. That’s an amazing achievement in the face of a harsh truth about that particular so-called pastor. That man was a mess. But God isn’t a mess. Somehow, my entire family—myself included—has kept the truth about God in our hearts, and it has enabled us to persevere in our faith.

This is an a-ha worthy of completely redefining how I view that time in my life. Yeah, the mess happened. But it didn’t destroy me. I was preserved in the mess. My faith endured, because it’s real. I can actually be proud of myself for that. And thankful to God too. I can let go of the self-recriminations and move on with my life.

I got it.

*Insert smiley face here*

Copyright © 2010 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

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