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I Am Not My Past

One distorted idea that creeps into my thinking from time to time is that who I am is my past, my family of origin, the things that have happened to me.

My childhood was rather ordinary, I think.  Daddy was a preacher who always had to have a full time job on the side to support us.  Mama stayed home with us kids – myself, the oldest; Jonathan, barely shy of two years younger; and then Joel, who came along the summer before I turned nine.

There were times (most of them, actually) when money was tight, but we never experienced crushing poverty.  My parents made their fair share of mistakes raising my brothers and me, but they were most likely honestly doing the best they knew how.  We had certain relatives (again, most of them) that we didn’t associate with except at large all-family gatherings, for reasons that were never explained to me, but as I’ve grown older I’ve learned that the secrets kept from me were for the most part quite tame.

I think it’s precisely because my childhood was so non-dramatic that it took me so long to recognize some of the lingering unhealthy ideas I picked up through those years.  I didn’t suffer any deep tragic losses; I didn’t endure any great deprivation of physical necessities.  It was ingrained in me that I was, in fact, much more fortunate than those poor starving heathen children in foreign lands, and that my fears and unhappiness were unfounded and trivial.

The writer who has most helped me to acknowledge the shadows of my past, to see how they have shaped me without allowing them to define me, is Frederick Buechner, an ordained Presbyterian minister and author of more than thirty books, including four autobiographical volumes.  Telling Secrets deals most directly with this issue.

‘…by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell.  They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition – that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.  It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are – even if we tell it only to ourselves – because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.  It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been in our lives and where we are going.  It also  makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own, and exchanges like that have a lot to do with what being a family is all about…’  Telling Secrets pp 2-3

These words have given me the courage over the past couple of years to look back and examine certain memories I had shoved into the dark cubbyholes of my mind, to realize how they were affecting me even after all this time, and to begin working through the feelings they stirred in me, finding what hidden insights they offered.

‘The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that make us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.’ TS p 33  


2 Comments to I Am Not My Past :

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Liz Williams on Thursday, February 28, 2013 6:52 AM
Love this posting. When shameful things are a part of a past, it can be an emotion that can paralize! I found that when I made myself vulnerable to a group of ladies in prison, it opened their hearts to think I was as human as them, and how one can turn that shame into something that God can use rather than giving Satan free reign with it.
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Becka on Thursday, February 28, 2013 7:09 AM
Thanks for sharing this, Liz. I am finding it to be true as well; God is using my openness as an avenue for mending old relationships and building new ones.

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