Summer 2009:: I was sitting in a restaurant with my youth group and a song came on through the speakers. It was a song that I had previously identified with, and I was surprised when I didn’t feel anything in regards to the song. It was a moment of clarity in which I realized : I was no longer the person I used to be. I had grown out of my old ways, and my past no longer knew me. It was freeing, scary and humbling all at the same time. When had this change taken place and how had I not noticed sooner?
It seems like these moments of striking clarity happen when we least expect it. We’ve been working toward a personal goal, and all of a sudden we wake up and realize “I’m almost there.” It’s almost as if a switch was flipped in our minds in which we have a positive revelation in regards to our own lives. (Not saying that the reverse can’t also be true where the negative can be revealed…but that’s for another day.)
We all have triggers that incite strong feelings in us – positive and negative – and many times these triggers are related to music, or other sounds around us, that remind us of the feelings of a certain time, place or relationship. Science has proven the link between memory and music, going so far as to say that the music of our formative years will always have more of an impact on us than the music we listen to as adults. Therefore it could be said that our musical backgrounds can color not only our past, but also our future as well.
This is all great if the music and memories or our past have shaped us into a positive and progressive person, but what if the reminders are negative? How do we overcome the stigmas, regrets and memories of our past in such a way that we can be effective in our future without constantly lugging that baggage around?
I’m reminded of Paul and his words to the church in Philippi. “…I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13, NASB)…” Or in the words of the Message version (which I love): I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
I can’t help but wonder how much it pained Paul to write these words. Remember Saul of Tarsus, the man who persecuted and KILLED Christians, while serving God as a Pharisee. Remember his conversion on the road to Damascus, and the reluctance of Ananias to reach out to Paul because of his past. But what do we remember Paul most for? We remember him as the majority writer of the New Testament. We remember him as the encourager of hearts, even from a jail cell. We remember him as the founder of many churches throughout Asia and the developed world at that time. Paul had a past, and before he died he was able to say “You don’t know me anymore.”
Our lives aren’t perfect, and we have all made mistakes. But we bring glory to God when we can look back and know that our pasts are not who are anymore. Those things may have shaped us to get where we currently are, but our past cannot claim us, and does not define us any longer.
As we walk with Jesus, music is not the only thing that will try to haunt you from your past. The high drama and emotions of your younger years, the actions and attitudes, and the relationships and regrets may try to haunt you. But ultimately, the decision is yours. You will ultimately have to decide if your past and regret is more important to you than what you’re looking at ahead. You get to decide if God is greater than the things you would let hold you back.
Your decisions today cannot undo the decisions of your past, but they shape your future.
I tell you from experience that it feels good to look at your past and write a letter with your life. It doesn’t have to be long, you can start it this way:
You don’t know me anymore…