Today I am hurting. My heart is hurting. So many people I love going through hard things. Illness, financial woes, relationship problems, struggling with things from the past that won't let go. Family and friends in pain. There is a quote by Elizabeth Stone that says to make the decision to be a mother is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. Yes, that is true, but even truer is to say that deciding to follow Jesus and live and love the way He did is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.
My husband says I take on too much of the burden of others. And as I sit here crying for those I love, maybe I agree with that. But if I truly follow Christ, and desire to be a follower and disciple of His then I have to do as He said and love others. And loving means feeling their pain and caring about them. It often means getting in the trenches with them as they are bloody and messy and just holding them. It means bandaging their awful wounds and trying to give them the medicine they need. It sometimes means watching them rot from their gangrenous sores because they are not willing to agree to amputate what is killing them.
Look, honestly I don't have all the answers. A shock, I know. I don't have the answers to world hunger, to war, to people hurting each other. I barely have the answer to what's for dinner tonight. But the one thing I do know, is that God is and that God loves us. He loves us in our hurt, in our pain, in our anger. He loves us in our joy and in our moments of triumph. He loves us because that is who He is. He cannot help but love us. And in His love for us, He also has a plan for us. And quite often we don't see that plan, or choose to ignore that plan because we don't want to believe that it is real. That He is real.
All I can tell you is what I have experienced. My past is not the worst, but it is also not the best. Growing up with alcoholics for parents. No extensive physical abuse, but there were a couple of times I remember that would be CPS worthy. Being molested. Feeling alone and lonely. An abortion. The pain of having to live with that choice at the age of 14. Getting to the place of using drugs and alcohol to numb what hurt inside of me. Then using disposable relationships to try to fill that void. Date rape while intoxicated and dealing with the effects of that. Sounds like one of those old-school afternoon specials they used to have on television. My point here is that through all that I have come to healing because of the love of God. Brennan Manning puts it so well, "God is saying in Jesus that in the end everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently, no suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting, no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Jesus did not deny the reality of suffering, discouragement, disappointment, frustration, and death; he simply stated that the Kingdom of God would conquer all of these horrors, that the Father’s love is so prodigal that no evil could possibly resist it." And as that well-worn verse in Romans states, "All things come together for good to those who are in Christ Jesus." All things, even those things that happened before I met Him.
Because of all I went through, not in spite of it, I have a compassion and an empathy for those who are hurting. It is like taking a vaccine, because I have a bit of the anti-body in me, I can help you heal. I can help someone else through the pain and suffering. My heart is outside my body, bumping up against those who are in agony and taking on part of their burden.
But we have to reconcile with our pasts to do that. I can choose to do as a former pastor once said, either let it make me bitter, or make me better. I can choose to let God heal me and get me through those things that happened or I can dwell on them. I can let my past become a past time...reliving it, brooding over it, often enshrining it. I can do as Proverbs 26:11 says, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness." It is foolishness to keep living in the past. It is foolishness to think I can change anything. The past is past, it cannot be changed. But it can be redeemed. It can be transformed from a destroying monstrosity to a redemptive motivator. It can eat me alive, or it can spur me on to good works for others. I am no longer my past. I am, through Jesus a conqueror. I am stronger and have a greater tenderness for those who are injured. I can think of those things from the past as weapons still being used against me or I can think of them as tools in my tool belt that Jesus allows me to use in ministry to others.
Dag Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat and Secretary of the U.N. in the 1950's prayed this, "For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes." All we can do, to move forward in discipleship to Jesus is to thank Him for the past, (for in some extent it is the past and those anguishes that finally brought us to Him) and to dedicate ourselves to living in this moment for others. All that we can do for the future is learn to say yes to all that He has in store for us. We have to live with an attitude of gratitude for everything. That is hard to do, but the One who gave His all for us is here to help us with even that.
So today I am grateful for my past that no longer has to haunt me. I can be thankful for the hurts, the pains, the emotional distress because all of that brought me to this point of being able to say yes to Jesus and yes to a ministry of giving that hope to others. I can be grateful even for the tears wept today, because it means my heart is still on the outside, hoping to rub up against someone else and share the love of Christ with them. And I can be grateful for my unknown future because He holds it in His hands. Past, present, future; all His and all for His glory. My past is no longer my past time.