The Cluttered Past


Let me first state here that I tend to be a Type A personality to a certain extent.  I like my i’s dotted and my t’s crossed. I like a plan and I like life to go according to that plan.

Of course, God has been working on me in this area for a long time. Obviously,  life doesn’t always–or even often– go according to plan. Sometimes things in life do not fit into a neat little box.

Take e-mail for instance.

Yes, e-mail.

Being inundated by e-mails is one of those modern-day issues that didn’t exist at all a mere 20 years ago. But now–in 2013–it is how businesses and stores and marketers and charities and, oftentimes, even family and friends communicate with us. That makes for a lot of e-mails.

Let me take you back a few years. Back to the day I decided to sign up for a g-mail account. As the e-mails started pouring in, I would go crazy trying to organize them. I would spend hours deleting, filing, and sorting e-mails.

Of course, the problem was that I would have to do it all over again the next day. The other problem was that I would inevitably delete something I would need weeks or months down the road. I was so frustrated and couldn’t figure out how to make it easier.

And then came the conversation.

I was having a conversation with a young twenty-something about my frustration with this. His response to me was simple: just leave them all there.

The internal dialogue started. What? Leave all of the e-mails in my box, cluttering cyberspace, not to mention my screen??  Why, I could never do that! It goes against all that is within me. It’s not even right.

But his suggestion made my wheels start turning and a day or two later, I started entertaining the idea. What if I did do that?  Any e-mail I needed would be available with a quick search. Would it really be that big of a deal to let them just sit there? Perhaps it was a just a head thing that I was bothered by the screen full of e-mails? Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have much to lose if I put his suggestion into practice for a day or two.

And so I decided to give it a temporary try. I forced myself to put my obsessive compulsion to have a clean inbox aside and let the messages sit there staring at me.

At first, it was hard. But, very gradually, over time, I got used to it. So much so that it became my normal.

Now, years later, I have thousands of messages in my g-mail account. If you e-mailed me last October, it is still there. If you e-mailed me three years ago, it is there. In fact, unless it was definitely junk with zero chance of ever needing to be recalled and therefore deleted, it is there.

And I bet you are thinking so what?

Well, I got to thinking about my life.

A few months ago, because of knee issues, I was told that I will never run again. I was and continue to be disappointed about this. No, I was never a marathon runner or even called myself an “official” runner. But I enjoyed running as a form of exercise. When I ran, I felt free and powerful. And now those days are over.

I have struggled to work through this. The typical thoughts —This isn’t fair! Why me? Now what do I do for exercise? — all raced through my mind.

But, no matter what, this experience is now part of who I am. It is woven into the fabric of my life. I cannot delete it. I cannot go back and edit it. I am now the woman with the arthritic left knee that can no longer run.

I am also the mother of four almost grown children.

I am a woman who has had a miscarriage.

I am the woman who drove a car into a barn (and no, I am not telling that whole story, so don’t ask!)

All of this stuff makes up my past. It is messy. Some of it is embarrassing. Some of it is painful. And some of it is wonderful. But all of it is what makes me who I am.

Sometimes, I just want to clear out my life “in-box” and be given a second chance. A second chance at being a wife (learning to be submissive in marriage has been painful for both me and my husband), a second chance at being a mother (all that yelling and frustration was pointless and hurtful).  Even a second chance at being a church member, a co-worker, a daughter.  Of course, this isn’t possible.

But I am not the same person I was then. I’ve grown in grace, in spiritual maturity, and in love. Oh, I have a long way to go yet, but, looking back, I can see that there has been some progress. And all of my experiences from my past were used by God to change me.

Instead of viewing the untidy mess of our past as a liability, let’s view it as a blessing. Oh, maybe not what we typically view as a blessing, but a blessing, nevertheless.

For we would not be who we are now, if it weren’t for what we went through then.

If you are a committed Christian, then God has used all of your circumstances to mold you to be more like Jesus.

And, just like my e-mails that sit somewhere in cyberspace, so the moments of our lives take space in the recesses of our mind, molding and making us into the person we have become.

And, while the current e-mails stare at me when I hop on g-mail, the ones written three years ago are hidden way deep in cyber space. I don’t look at them every day. I don’t search for them. Our memories should be a little like that, too. We shouldn’t be wallowing in despair and discouragement and regret over the past (unless there is something unresolved and unforgiven–a topic for another post on a different day).

And, unlike e-mail, our pasts come with baggage. And we have a decision to make. Will it make me a better person or will it make me a bitter person? Will I grow more like Christ from my past experiences or will I grow less like Christ?

That is the question.

If you are reading this right now can you look back and see how God has created beauty from the ashes of your life? Or have you been so wrapped up in despair and self-pity, that you haven’t been able to see any growth or change at all? Only you can answer that question.



4 thoughts on “The Cluttered Past”

  1. Yes, I can see the beauty! And only recently have I seen the beauty of getting older. With age comes wisdom for sure and it’s nice to have a more peaceful perspective on life. On a different note, somewhere in my inbox are emails with you about us trying to get together. I need to find that and get something on the calendar! So sorry about that.
    Have a great week, Leslie.

  2. I was just thinking about this yesterday! Not about the emails but about things in our past that make us who we are. Satan likes to bring past things up that we did wrong or didn’t do at all and should have, and we wish we could go back and change them. I have to ask God for forgiveness when certain things come to mind, but then leave them there and not dwell on them. I’m so thankful that God forgave me and used those things to help me grow. If I keep dwelling on my wrongs in the past, Satan would have the victory because I would be very depressed. The painful and hard experiences in my life are not times I would have volunteered to go through, but they have made my life “richer” for having gone through them. I would not have changed that part if I had a second chance. Hopefully, God can use me to help others who are going through some of the same experiences.

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