Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Past Presents the Future

The past. For some of us the past is "the glory days", a time in our life we're not ready to let go of yet. For others the past is full of regret and "skeletons in the closet". Yet all of us carry the past with us throughout our lives and it contributes to many of our life choices. I think it's crucial to have a healthy relationship with our past, but determining exactly what that looks like requires us to deal with what our past may be.

The "Glory Days" Past
Here I'm not talking about that annoying friend who bores everyone to sleep every time they re-hash old tales. Rather, I'm talking about being so immersed in your past that you're absent from the present.

Let me tell you a story. When I finished school I embarked on several years of missionary work which took me all across Australia. I was living the ultimate gap-year(s) adventure! Life was fast paced, full of unknowns and mysteries. Yet, when I returned home it felt like everyone and everything were living in slow motion. Life became predictable again. I quickly became disenchanted with study and family and work; to the point where I became disengaged with it all.

Life has adventures, journeys and good times. It also has mundane, everyday, chore-ish sort of stuff too. Here's the thing: all of it, both the adventures and the mundane, all of it has fruit. So as boring as study might be, as testing as family relationships can get or as frustrating as working can become: you miss the value of all these things if you write them off. Live the mundane, as well as the adventures.

The "Skeleton in the Closet" Past
We all have secrets. We all have things that we're embarrassed about, or hurt from or ashamed of. And we'd be petrified if anyone ever found out. Sometimes we can glaze over these moments and pretend like they never happened.

For a long time in my life I thought I was going to be a priest. I thought for certain that was what I was meant to do with my life. And I wasn't shy about telling people that either! So you can imagine the embarrassment I felt when I left the seminary. It wasn't a negative experience, but I felt ashamed that I couldn't complete the training and I felt like I let so many people down. These feelings proceeded to hound me, to the point where I forgot the original reason why I left the seminary in the first place (God was calling me elsewhere) and I glazed over the whole experience. Over the years that followed I was bugged by the question: should I or shouldn't I go back? It took me years to find peace.

There's the cliche line that we need to learn from our past. Well yes, but there's more to dealing with our past. I believe we need to make decisions about our past in order to make decisions about our future. What do I mean? I needed to look back at my seminary experience and say "ok, so I thought I was going to be a priest; now I'm not." It seems simple enough, but saying that to myself has given me the freedom to move on with my life, to commit to a relationship to my job and to study. It's important to name and own the "skeletons in the closet", to lay them to rest rather than burying them deep in the recesses of our mind.

I think a healthy relationship with the past is one where I carry my experiences into my present. The alternative is to be constantly dragged back into the past, to re-live grand experiences or to mull over hurts and regrets.  We need to make decisions about our past to make decisions about our future. Yes, your past is a part of you; so don't leave your past behind! Make peace with your past and allow God to use it to direct you to your future.