Got Some Rough Stuff in Your Past? Here’s What You Can Do with It
THIS WEEK: A first-ever post by a male guest blogger - my husband, Mike - a brief update on baby Jane, and a special shoutout to those joining us here for the first time who were at the third and final women's retreat at Camp Berea this past weekend. Nearly 200 of you "Bereans" are now part of our online community. WELCOME!
And now some practical wisdom from my favorite pastor...
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
James was reacting to something I had just said at our Sunday night college men’s Bible study. We were discussing the topic that has tormented young men since the beginning of time: sexual temptation.
James’ Christian brothers, seated around the table, nodded their heads in sympathy as he spat out his self-loathing. “I feel like such a spiritual failure, such a hypocrite!”
We know what that feels like, don’t we? Maybe your personal struggle is not in that area. Maybe it’s those open mental “files” in your brain that Maggie referred to last week that grind you down and keep you up at night.
Even though you don’t want to look at them, your hyper-active brain keeps them open, often making it difficult for you to shut down.
“It’s maddening!” exclaimed James. “I don’t want to think about those things. I don’t want to look at those images. It just seems like I can’t stop myself!”
That’s when I asked him, “Have you ever thought about giving thanks for those thoughts, for that struggle?”
You would have thought that I, a member of the clergy, had just spoken profanity. The room went dead silent…until it was broken by James’s astonished objection.
Maybe you’re frustrated as well.
Ever since you began your walk of faith perhaps you’ve been trying to delete certain mental files from your memory bank. But no matter how many times you hit DELETE they reappear, bringing with them guilt and frustration and discouragement and self-loathing. As James said, “It’s maddening! How can you suggest giving thanks for stuff like that? That feels so obscene!”
I get it, I do. I have engaged in countless battles with haunting replays of my past, reminders of weaknesses and failures. On several occasions as a young Christian I came close to stuffing my faith in a closet and yielding to the craziness in my mind.
I was at one of those low points when the beloved pastor and author Stuart Briscoe showed up on the stage of my life. He was speaking in a chapel service at my college. I wasn’t initially interested in hearing him but I had no choice as attendance was mandatory.
Stuart was teaching on joy. He explained that many people don’t experience joy because they are looking in the wrong place. He then articulated one of the most memorable statements I’ve ever heard:
“Most people think that happiness happens to happen when their happenings happen to happen the way they happen to want their happenings to happen.”
“But life doesn’t work that way,” he went on, “at least not most of the time. If you think happiness and joy are found in your happenings then you will spend a great deal of time unhappy and joyless.”
He reminded us that Jesus, on the night of his arrest, was giving final instructions to his disciples when he said this:
“I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow.”
Briscoe concluded: “True happiness, true joy are not found in a happenstance but in a relationship. Sure, positive happenings can make you feel good, but it doesn’t last. If you want to find the joy that overflows you will find it in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”
That brings us to the role of those unwanted mental files. If abundant joy is found in deep intimacy with the Heavenly Father, we must remember there is someone who doesn’t want us to experience that intimacy.
We know his name: Jesus called him “the Thief.” We also know his agenda: To steal, kill and destroy. He will do anything to steal, kill and destroy our joy.
What does that have to do with those dreaded files?
Well, do you remember what they do to us? They fill us with guilt and frustration and discouragement and self-loathing. Do those things create intimacy with God? Don’t they, rather, make us want to hide just as our ancestors did in the garden?
Here is the craftiness of Satan’s plan: All he has to do to push us away from God is open a couple of those ugly files on the video screen of our brain so we begin to wallow in guilt and shame.
So how does giving thanks fit in here?
First, it’s not the kind of gratitude you express after receiving a birthday present. It is more like thankfulness for what something does for you. There are at least seven things inside those dreaded files for which you can be thankful.
1) Those mental files containing memories of past mistakes and present struggles should remind you how dependent you are. You dare not take a single breath apart from God lest you crash. Thank God for that reminder.
2) God loves you even though he knows everything in those files. That’s pretty amazing!
3) Jesus died for you, taking all the ugliness in those files upon himself on the cross. Is there anything more incredible than that?!
4) Those files should show you that you’re not alone in your struggles. They can open your eyes to others who are doing battle just like you.
5) Those files should remind you that God has forgiven you, not just for yesterday’s garbage but for today’s and tomorrow’s as well.
6) If you’re paying attention, those files should show you that you may not yet be all you want to be but you are no longer what you used to be.
7) Finally, those files should remind you that one of the grand delights of our eternal home is that all that has caused our guilt, regret, and shame will one day be deleted forever.
Do you begin to see how it works?
The more grateful you become, the more you’ll be drawn into intimacy with the Father.
You can’t help but be filled with wonder and amazement and love for what He, through Jesus, did for you on the cross.
That alone is a perfect formula for joy.
What about the Thief? Will he decide to leave you alone? Probably not. He’ll try to open a different file and shove it in your face. But you know what to do with that file. And when the enemy of your soul reminds you of your past, you can remind him of his future.
If you’re reading this today, rest assured that Maggie and I are praying for you. We all have rough stuff in our past, but shame has no hold over those held by the powerful love of our Lord Jesus Christ.
@2021, Michael A. Rowe
Personal update on baby Jane: Our entire family is deeply grateful for your fervent, ongoing intercession for our infant granddaughter who has spent the first seven weeks of her life at Boston Children's Hospital. She developed an extremely rare complication after cardiac surgery, necessitating emergency surgery and other remedial measures, but as of this writing the newest treatment in Boston continues to be promising. We are praising God!