Redeeming the past

So, at the beginning of 2015, I’m working through an on-line course to help me narrow my goals and focus my energies. It seems like I regularly need to do this…easy to get lost in the options and opportunities, in the roles and tasks and have-tos that appear, like magic, in my day-to-day.

Some roles I’ve had for years, and still enjoy; they are a part of me and mine. Others I’ve outgrown but haven’t completely shed all the tasks that were attached. There are also new interests I’d like to explore…how do I filter what I really want, eliminate what’s draining my resources, and say no to anything new that doesn’t fit?

I’ve had a lot of ideas of how I want to spend the years in front of me. Given my genetics, I could live to be about 300…well, maybe not quite that old. But old enough that I should have a nice stretch of time to fill, if I don’t step in front of a bus or meet with some unfortunate accident. I try to remember to look both ways when I cross the street, so here’s hoping I have time yet on my side.

Which brings me to the course I’m taking. It’s an online, move-at-your-own-pace offering, so I can work through each module as I have time. In case you’re interested (no kickback coming to me, just sharing my resources) check out Donald Miller’s Creating Your Life Plan. Right now it is closed for new enrollment, but I assume it will reopen at some point in the near future. It’s labeled a life plan, but it also helps to define roles, boundaries, priorities…all so important when you’re trying to refocus.

I just finished the third module, and so far we’ve only looked backward, which seems like the wrong direction if you’re planning the future. But I suppose the point is that it’s easier to determine where you want to go if you take a look at where you’ve been.

But here’s the part I really love.

The process doesn’t just ask you to review your life…it asks you to review it in terms of positive and negative experiences…big or small, it’s not the size of the event or encounter that is important, but what it meant to your life.

We’ve all had experiences that to anyone else would seem of little importance. But something happens in a moment, and life is never the same again. Or maybe it is your view of life…the point is, something changed. It’s described as any event / experience that’s like a door you walk through, that you can never turn back to where you were before…a life turn.

I’m simplifying of course, and I can’t cover everything (nor should I, this is copyrighted material!) but what I want to share isn’t a new concept…this course is just bringing it out in a different way.

The concept is redemption of past pain, and how we can do that for ourselves. The inspiration for this piece of the course grew out of Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, and the work that he did with concentration camp prisoners to help them find a reason to survive even the most terrible of conditions.

I’m familiar with the idea of redemption. As a believer in Christ, redemption is salvation, and I’m grateful for that light in my life.

But this redemption is something we can do for ourselves, and it is a way to find healing for whatever has brought pain.

The idea is that as you pinpoint life turns…those important and life changing moments that have shaped your life…as you define those points, you also determine if each one is positive or negative. I found it pretty easy to define my events. There’s no right or wrong number, and obviously the younger you are the fewer life turns you’re likely to have, and the older you are the more you’ll have.

After you have your list of events and note the negative ones, the next piece is a little more challenging. Look at what happened and all the circumstances that occurred because of each negative situation. The challenge is to “redeem” that event by finding good that came from it.

The instructor was very clear…this is not redefining a tragedy as a blessing, or trying to dismiss something that was very painful as a non-event. This is about looking the hard things of life in the face, acknowledging the pain, and then looking carefully to see what good came after, whether in your life or for someone else. And keep in mind, seeing good coming out of something negative is not a time limited thing. The process could be over a long period.

Maybe you lost a job and that led to a new career you couldn’t have imagined. Maybe you experienced illness and that brought new insight and relationships to your life. Maybe you had to work through some difficult loss and you’re using that experience to share and minister to others who are dealing with the same circumstance, and you’re blessing others with your knowledge and empathy.

It isn’t an easy exercise. How could it be?

You’re asked to look very closely at the hardest moments of your life…loss and failure and disappointment. And you’re asked to redeem that pain if you can.

What does that do for you? Well, if you haven’t already worked through a process like this in some form, it helps you confront bitterness, anger you may be holding, sadness, and any other negative emotion you can think of.

It is hard to do, and maybe it will never be completely finished. Some wounds just keep giving hurt.

I believe God can redeem my future.

But I have a hand in redeeming the pain of my past. Only I can decide if I will allow pain to have a greater purpose, a higher meaning, for me, or for others.

I think we do this instinctively sometimes. We reach out to people around us who are hurting to share stories of how we overcame difficulties in our past. That is redeeming our pain, giving it a greater purpose.

But some people get lost…can’t find their way to doing that…seem to get trapped in bitterness and sadness instead of working through it. I’m not here to say I’ve got it all neatly sorted out. I battle this in some ways on a daily basis. Aren’t there wounds in all lives that seem impossible to get over? To finally be done with?

But it can be done, and it has been done, with people overcoming bitterness and pain that seem unimaginable…it is about forgiving others, forgiving yourself, and then seeing where that grace leads.

It was interesting to me that as I looked at my life, the big hurts and disappointments I could easily spot. But there were some significant smaller ones that I had never really confronted, or dealt with in a constructive way, and this exercise helped me put them to rest. And the big ones? Well, if you have major loss in your life, and sadly most humans do, it may have to be a work in progress…I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…in fact, having to work through the hardest losses and sorrows of life over a period of time allows you to grow with the experience…none of this is cookie cutter, simple, or quick.

I think the point is to do this deliberately, intentionally…by doing what we can to redeem the past…not deny the hurt, but give it a purpose, a reason that makes living through it meaningful…by doing that, we take the bitterness out of it, and begin to see the value, to ourselves or to others, of the experience.

Remember, the point is not to remove the pain; that may not be possible. The point is to remove bitterness and to find peace. Only then can we turn our full attention to the future in a whole and healthy way.

So…I’ve been challenged, and I’m passing it on…if you’re doing some reordering and future planning in this first few weeks of 2015, look behind you to make sure your foundation is firm, that your difficult experiences are redeemed. It will be hard…but it will be worth doing! I say this as someone still in the “doing” stage, looking at circumstances with far-reaching consequences, the ends of which I can’t see in the moment. But I believe, in this context, that my past will be “redeemed,” as well as my future..and that’s my goal.

~ Sheila

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One thought on “Redeeming the past

  1. For me, learning the lessons of the past from those hard times, gives purpose to those struggles and lessens the sting of bitterness and pain that you referred to, When I apply the lessons learned from the past to my future, I feel that I can move on with joy!

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