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 of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. 1 Corinthians 3:13-14
Do not [earnestly] remember the former things; neither consider the things of old.Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:18-19
Another year is upon us and it seems that the older I get the faster the years go by. Yet as I continue to wait on the Lord it can feel as though each year blurs into the one before without much change and that winter season of my life has somehow got longer and longer (see earlier post for more on unchanging seasons). As I prayed and sought the Lord regarding His plans for me this year and what it was that He would have me write down as my prayers for the year ahead I felt him say the word release. Release what has gone before, release old hurts, release pain, release people from unrealistic expectations, release family members from past and even present wrongs. Release yourself from past sin, mistakes, failures and let go of what lies behind you.
The past has a way of holding us hostage and it seems that many of our past hurts stem from our family of origin. Unlike the Hallmark movies that abound at Christmas (see here for a great blog post by Jane Borden on small town imaginings and Hallmark movies) we don’t all have supportive parents who champion our cause and who we just can’t wait to spend time with over the holidays. Many of us, myself included, struggle with returning to our childhood homes for Christmas, we struggle with our families, we struggle with having different personalities, different viewpoints and even different memories of the same events. More seriously we can struggle with traumatic childhoods, that may have left us wounded emotionally or even physically. We like to think that when we become a Christian we can magically forgive and move on but I have discovered that it is not that simple. The desire to forgive is real but when I come face to face with the person who wounded me, and they are not in the slightest bit sorry or even aware, the hurt rears its ugly head and feelings of resentment, bitterness and hurt surge. It may be similar with you or it may be different but for me the one thing I have learned is that forgiveness takes time, that healing takes time. Going back to my home country opens wounds that I thought had healed and it sometimes feels it takes me another year to close them again only to have them ripped open anew on the next visit.
So I prayed as I was again ripped open Lord how long will this happen, how can I move on once and for all and leave this hurt behind? How do I stay in relationship with family and yet protect my heart from being hurt? How do I embrace 2019 with hope rather than dreading that it will be a repeat of all the years before? How do I move past something when others stay entrenched in old patterns? Again the word He breathed on me was release, release to Me the hurt, the pain, the sadness, the regret, the disappointment and keep releasing. Almost like exhaling, breathe the Lord in, breathe His Word in and breathe the pain out. I felt Him say release all that has gone before and when you do you will be able to see the new thing I am doing.
‘Lord’ I said, ‘I don’t see anything new that is good in my life, the only new things I see seem pretty negative. Good friends have moved away, excellent colleagues left our office and the only new seems to be new problems and new conflicts to solve. I have prayed for several things for decades now and they remain as seemingly stuck as they were when I first prayed for them; for a spouse, for salvation for colleagues and family members, for family reconciliation but still I wait’.
The new seems elusive, the old seems pervasive. It is the old that seems more real, the same disappointments, the same hurts, the same overwhelming feelings of loneliness that sweep down when I least expect them. It is hard to look for the good in the new when the only new things that I can see seem to add to my stress rather than subtract from it. How long I asked can I maintain my optimistic outlook in the face of what feels like a very discouraging ‘reality’. How do I write my hopeful 2019 prayers when most of them will be the same prayers I have been praying for the last 10 years?
The new year poses new challenges for all of us and maybe especially for those of us who have lived long enough to be grandparents (albeit very young ones (like mine were), but still possible, if not terrifying). As I pass the mid-point of my life expectancy certain dreams and hopes that I could hold to in my 20s and 30s have to be let go. The dream of being a biological mother for example, which along with it means the dream of being a grandmother or a great-grandmother. There are still possibilities of non-biological children of course, but it would be a lie to say that it is not upsetting to have to release the dream of biological children to the Lord and lay it down, never to take it up again. To trust that even in the no God is still good and His love is still real. That He will be enough and that He knows what is best for me and best for His kingdom.
You might have other dreams and while I believe that literally nothing is impossible for the Lord I think in some things there is still a point where we need to surrender the dream to the Lord and let Him deal with it. He wants to help us to move forward rather than to look back with regret at what has not happened or happened, that was not good, but to focus on Him and the good things that still could happen. I think that this is what the Lord means in Isaiah 43:18-19 when he writes about not considering the past, about not earnestly remembering as the Amplified version translates it. He does not want us to keep mulling over what lies behind us, whether it is past hurts or past dreams or past disappointments.
The Bible has quite a lot to say about leaving the past behind. It seems God knew that while remembering Him and His goodness was critical it was equally important that we not be held hostage by the past, especially past wounds and hurts, which is why forgiveness becomes so critical. Abraham is called to leave his country and his people and go to a new land and Moses is called to lead the people out of Egypt to the promised land. But there is also the leaving behind of hurts and grudges. In Genesis 32 we see Jacob obeying God and returning to his father’s land but he is fearful of how Esau will treat him after years of separation following him stealing his brother’s birthright. God however is a God of reconciliation, He wants us to leave past arguments, past quarrels behind. On the eve of his meeting Esau Jacob encounters the living God and wrestles with him until daybreak when his hip is touched through which he gains a limp and a new name, Israel. No more is He the deceiver, Jacob, now he is Israel, or he who struggles with God. The past is gone, the new has come. New confidence to face his brother whom he wronged, a new identity and name from which to live from. In fact new names are common thing throughout the bible, starting with Abram who became Abraham, Sarai, who became Sarah, Simon who became Peter, the rock. With the Lord, it seems a life lived with him is a life in which we will have to leave our old identity behind if we are to keep moving forward with Him.
The Bible says that when we give our lives to Jesus we are a new creation, we are washed with the blood of the lamb, we are forgiven and we are made righteous and in right standing with God. Sadly it is harder for us than for God to see ourselves as new and to walk accordingly. We know it in our heads but in our hearts we can feel anything but new. We feel like we bought a new piece of clothing but inside the same body, the same struggles, just the outside looks shiny and new. But the Bible says God will give us a new heart, a heart of flesh for our heart of stone. A new name written on a white stone, known only to God and us, have you ever wondered what God calls you? I know I do. I am sure they are names like, Mighty One, Courageous, Blessed, Victorious and other wonderful names that describe who we were made to be. Our Heavenly Father wants to give us a new life inside and out, but we struggle to receive it. We grow in some areas, we see breakthrough in some areas but in others we languish and we can feel stuck. Especially in areas of unanswered prayer around relationships.
Emotional healing seems to take the longest time and pose the greatest challenge to our victorious walk. But it is precisely this that God wants us to release to Him. To be gentle with ourselves, as He is gentle with us. To forgive and keep forgiving others and very importantly forgive ourselves. He does not want us tethered to the past, using the past as a benchmark by which we determine our success in the future. No! Paul says he forgets the past, he focuses only on what lies ahead. A challenge for me definitely. Sometimes I feel like I spend so much time with my eyes on the rear-view mirror that I nearly run smack into what is ahead. Sometimes the rear view provides a distraction from my present troubles which can feel all encompassing. Other times, when there seems to be very little to rejoice about, there sometimes a strange comfort in looking back. In somehow consoling myself with delving into painful memories from the past to avoid pain in the present. One pain medicating the other, neither helpful or edifying. So what do we do? What do I do?
Release, again the word whispered in my ear, just release. Sit with the present pain and release it to the Lord, and look to His promises, His character. ‘Aaah but I have tried so hard and I still feel stuck’. I occasionally feel like it is all a lie, smoke and mirrors, sometimes I wonder if there really is a God, this might be shocking I know. But all the same I sometimes think is God is just wishful thinking on my part, I have never heard an audible voice, witnessed a miracle, seen a vision or had a dream of Him. Nothing. I have no evidence personally that God is real and yet there is a still small voice at my core that tells me He exists however He often seems so hidden, so far away from me and yet so close to others.
I need to confess that my walk with the Lord is not one that always comes easily. It often feels like it is day after day of effort to keep believing, to stay in hope, to stay faithful, to stay focused, to keep reading the Bible, to keep writing this blog, to keep being a source of hope and encouragement for others. I wonder how many people believe every single thing they write and post all the time. It is so easy to write things, to say the easy stuff, the pat advice and to gloss over the real struggles of faith and walking with the Lord. I can relate to C.S. Lewis and his book ‘A Grief Observed’ which he wrote after losing his wife, where he talks of the silence of God and his despair but that even in his grief he could not stop believing in God. I can relate to those other reluctant converts who God got hold of and despite everything, the conviction that God exists and that He is who is says He is, could not be denied. I am so thankful that it is God who has hold of me and not the other way around. My grasp is weak but His is strong, release! I see now that it is we who can release our hold, we can stop trying so hard and relax and release because it is not we who hold onto God but it is He who holds onto us, oh blessed release.
And so as this New Year starts, I believe that God’s word to Isaiah- ‘forget the former things, neither consider the things of old’ is His word to us and why? Because ‘Behold I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it? Even now it springs forth!, I am making streams in the desert’. If we cannot release the past to the Lord, then we will not be able to perceive, to see, the wonderful new things that He is doing and wants to do in our lives. He wants to refresh us, to bring life to the areas of our lives that are dusty and dry and without hope or any sign of life. He wants to make the dry bones live (Ezekiel 37). We serve a God who is all about renewal, new life, new hope, new name, ‘Behold I make all things new’!
But we cannot simultaneously hold onto the old and the new at the same time. We cannot be constantly mulling over and ruminating on the past because if we are then we will miss the present and have no hope for the future. So as you think and pray about your year ahead, ask the Lord to help you release the past, to relax into Him and to give you a vision for the year and years ahead. In Habakkuk 2 the Lord says to the prophet write the vision, declare it and then wait for it to come to pass. He says ‘though it tarry wait for it, for it will surely come’. In the same way I believe we need to write down what we believe the Lord is saying to us about our future, the dreams He has placed on our hearts, for ourselves, our families, our workplace, our nation and our world.
Don’t be afraid this year to write a bold vision for your life, to believe God for even greater things than in the past, even if some things are still to come. The Lord loves us, He gave His life for us and He wants us to be partners with Him in bringing as many people as we can home.
This year release the past to the Lord, keep your eyes on the road ahead, on the mighty promises of God, be gentle on yourself and others and see His victory in your life and the lives of those around you. God bless you this year, may you abound in every good work and may you experience the miraculous this year.