Have you ever had something worm its way into your head that you just can’t get out? I’ve had that over the last few months, and the more I talk to people about it the more I’m convinced I need to get it out. Not just for you, but for me. Because I need this message more than anyone.
Here’s the simple version: Your story is still being written. Simple enough, right?
Now here’s the longer version: Sometimes we get so distraught about the chapters that have been written in and about our lives that we let them distract us from what’s to come. We are so ashamed of what’s happened in the past that we let it define our future. We bury ourselves in shame or grief or pain that we come to believe that’s all the future holds. We lock in on our past and get locked in by our past. All at the expense of our future.
But I have news for you: You’re not writing your story. God is. And he’s not done.
Listen, I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. And can I be real honest with you? I’ve done all those things as a Christian. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life, which means that all those things I’ve done that I look back on and shudder took place while I was following Jesus.
I’ve said things I’m not proud of. I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’ve not been the person I ultimately want to be. Just ask my wife. And it all happened while professing a faith in Jesus Christ.
Why do I tell you that? Because following Jesus isn’t some magical formula where all the sudden you’re filled with all the right words and all the right desires. No, not at all. When you begin to follow Jesus – and continue to do so – you actually become more aware of your failures and shortcomings. And you grow to detest them even more.
In a way, then, that remorse over those past chapters in your life is actually a sign that something deeper, something good, is going on inside of you. Think about it: The addict who has no regrets and makes every excuse for his or her actions isn’t on a good trajectory. They’re on a path to more destructive behavior.
We actually see this in the Bible. One of that book’s greatest figures and writers is a guy named Paul. He struggled with this very thing. Here’s how he explained it:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.
If Paul, arguably the greatest biblical author, struggled with doing what he doesn’t want to do, I have news for you: You’re going to struggle, too. That’s not discouraging, that’s encouraging! Why? Because it means that there’s hope despite your story’s ugliest chapters.
Paul had some really ugly chapters in his life. Even though he became one of the greatest, most faithful, Christians of all time, he used to kill Christians. That was his job. He had an incredible conversion, no doubt, but his past was messy. And even despite that conversion he still struggled with doing what he knew was right.
There’s a fancy word in the Christian faith for all of this. It’s called “sanctification.” A while back I talked about this term in another article. Instead of reinventing that explanation, here’s what I said back then that is still relevant here:
That word can be a little intimidating, but here’s what it means. It’s simply the idea that we’re not yet what we will one day be in Christ, but we are more than what we were before him. In other words, living Second is a process, a journey. We strive to live Second, to live like Jesus said to live, but there are bumps along the way. There are explosions, sometimes of spectacular proportion. And yet it’s all so beautiful when we view them in light of that process.
That doesn’t mean those hiccups are fun. The time you let the alcohol control you, the mistake you made that ended your last relationship, or the thing you said that cost you your job can and will sting. But once you start viewing those things in light of what they are teaching you, and how God is using them to do so, they don’t control you.
If that’s true, then we need to stop placing our identities in our failures. Should we learn from them? Absolutely. But we can’t wallow in them. We can have remorse while also having resolve.
Friend, you’re going through a process. During that process, you’re going to look back on things you did last year or even yesterday and shudder. That’s actually good. That’s healthy.
But the problem comes when we view those mistakes as defining. When we view them as limiting what God can do and will do with us. One of the many beauties of Jesus is that he’s constantly calling us to something better, and he’s given us what’s called the Holy Spirit to help us.
While you may think you have messed up your story, the truth is he’s still working. Still writing. Have you messed up? Most definitely. Have you messed up so much that God can’t still use you? Absolutely not.
The great author is writing a story with you. Remember that. Embrace it. While your past is part of you, it isn’t you. Draw closer to the ultimate author and I think you’ll eventually step back and be amazed at what he’s writing not just for you but with you.
I know I need to hear that. I think you probably do, too.