Wrestling with These Bad Memories from My Past

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I was headed out to a school in my county Wednesday to help teach someone how to use our video conferencing software and I drove by a youth baseball field I had played at when I was a kid. I thought about it for a second and then kept driving. I got to the school and realized I had 15 minutes to spare. So I drove back to the field, got out of my car and walked onto the field.

It had been a long time, so a lot of specific memories had faded, but a couple came to mind. I remember getting a game ball outside the third-base dugout. I remember trotting out to my old position at third base and taking warm-up grounders before the inning got underway. Following the culture of today, I even took a selfie of myself at that third base spot.

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Maybe it’s hard to tell I’m actually at third base, but I promise you I am.

Anyways, I was reminded of the good memories and I thought, “How can I turn this into a blog post?” Good or not, that thought goes through my head sometimes. I asked God if there was anything worthy of writing about and the first thing that came to mind was the bad memories of my past.

When it’s a quarter past midnight and the grey skies fade to black, the waves splash and set me off track. So my vessel might crash or collapse when I’m attacked, and start wrestling in my head with these bad memories from my past.“*

Bad memories are some of the most damaging things that can enter our minds during the day. If you’re like me, the emotional shift can be so shocking that you struggle to concentrate on where you are and what you’re doing because all you can think about is that memory. All you can focus on is how whatever happened made you feel then and how it makes you feel now.

I’ve got a lot of bad memories in my past, and they tend to come up at the most inopportune times. Sins I’ve committed, mistakes I’ve made, not-so-nice things that people have said to me, sins committed against me. It sucks when those things come up. I hate how I feel, so much so that I try to forget them as soon as they come up. It feels better to not think about it.

But I think about how those things have shaped me. I think about how that relationship ended badly, but I learned a lot from it. I think about the many times sin seemed to have a tight grip around my soul, but I remember the beauty of grace in that situation, that God doesn’t hold it against me, that sin really isn’t winning. I think about what that person said that cut deep, but I remember the reconciliation we had and a friendship renewed.

When I was in high school, I came up with this sweet analogy that I love and I still think is true. (Side note: I love coming up with analogies, and I tend to get prideful in them, so please call me out if it gets to be too much. I’m calling myself out here.) Bad memories and situations are like a can of your favorite soda, say Mountain Dew. You open the can of Mountain Dew and you drink the soda, then you chuck the can (recycle, trash, whatever you do with your soda cans).

This is the analogy. The can with the soda in it is the situation playing out. The soda itself is the growth, the lessons learned, the good parts of it if there were any. The empty can that you throw away is the bad memories, the negative part of it, what you don’t want to remember. Then imagine you’ve put all the cans, all the situations, in a pile in your closet. Whenever you go to open the closet, you’re reminded of the situations that didn’t turn out as you hoped. But you’re also reminded of the soda itself, what you learned, how you grew, the good parts of it, if there were any.

Paul wrote: “…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14). Paul probably had lots of bad memories from his crusade killing Christians, from the time he spent mocking the Jesus he grew to love and serve and ultimately, we believe, give his life for. Even while he was sharing the gospel with many, I imagine the thoughts came up, particularly when people asked him, “Hey, weren’t you that guy who killed Christians?”

From third base.
From third base.

Maybe he didn’t feel that way or have those emotions, I don’t know for sure. But he didn’t dwell too much on the past. He forgot what was behind him. He forgot his old life of Pharisaism and legalism and chose to press forward in his calling. But he clearly didn’t forget it completely; he was able to share about it and what he learned from it many times, particularly in Philippians 3:4-11.

Now, some of you might have bad memories I wouldn’t be able to comprehend – maybe abuse or neglect or abandonment, things I’ve never experienced. But in those moments, you can remember even more: God loves you and cares for you, no matter what your past is. He wants you to be His child. He wants to adopt you. If you’re a believer, He already has.

If you’re not a believer, you’ve just got to trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Give up meditating on the past and believe you can be forgiven of all your sin and be given new life here and now. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Thessalonians 5:17).

So when those bad memories come up, don’t try to stuff it immediately. Remember what you learned, remember how God grew you. He may use those memories. Allow yourself to go back to the ball field or the classroom or wherever those bad memories occurred just for a second and remember how God has grown you, how He’s loved you through it all. Then embrace the grace, embrace the love you have and know you don’t have to be defined by those bad memories.

In God’s eyes, you’re not. You’re loved.

Evil intentions will not disturb God’s purposes or interfere, so who shall I fear if my anchor is secure?
Learning to consider it pure joy when I’m facing tribulations – praising God instead of complaining and getting overtaken with bitterness.
Looking at the pages of the book of James and seein’ the ways that God works through the trials to make us more mature in our faith,
And it reminds me how desperate I am in this desert land, thirsty for Your mercy and plan while You give me the strength to stand.
You’re my greatest pleasure, yeah, no matter the weather I face, Lord. You never forsake my fragile life – I’m safe under Your sovereign grace.”^

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* Beautiful Eulogy featuring Josh Garrels, “Anchor,” Satellite Kite (Humble Beast Records: 2011). Songwriters: Brian “Braille” Winchester, Thomas “Odd Thomas” Terry, Josh Garrels, Courtland Urbano.

^ Beautiful Eulogy feat. Josh Garrels, “Anchor.” Listen to “Anchor” here. Download Satellite Kite for free here.

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