I was watching a college basketball game the other day, when I was struck with a vivid flashback of shooting a basketball over the backboard during one of my high school games.
I immediately cringed remembering how laughably terrible that moment felt as everyone watched my over-calculation. The referees didn’t know what to do, the opposing team was in shock, and my whole team immediately started cracking up. Our coach had to call a timeout to settle the team down. My teammates affectionately called me “rocket arm” for the rest of my high school career and we belly-laughed about it more than a couple of times. Looking back on this moment almost ten years later, I can safely say that my pride still crumbles when I think about it.
Unfortunately, the past can be a difficult place to revisit. Shame, regret, fear, hurt, betrayal… these are all feelings that play a part in our stories. Our relationship to our past can corrupt our present and future if we aren’t willing to submerge our every experience in the ocean of God’s mercy.
We see examples of this time and time again throughout history, literature and art— the tragic past that corrupted the villain is an all too common theme. From the jealousy of Cinderella’s stepmother, to the resentfully vindictive lifestyles of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and of Michael Goob in Disney’s Meet the Robinsons, to our own difficulties to move on from things that have happened, we see how this can be true. We see that our pasts need God.
When I taught middle school, there was a religious sister whose classroom was a couple of doors down from me. I’ll never forget the words she had written above the chalkboard in neat penmanship:
“My past, O Lord, to Your mercy; my present, to Your love; my future to Your providence.”
If you’ve ever struggled to reconcile with your past, I recommend taking these words of Saint Padre Pio to be your own. Sometimes the temptation to live in the past will arise, fear or guilt or shame will try to overtake you and steal your joy and put you down. Please know that this is not from God. God exists in the present moment. Do not buy into the lie that your past is unforgivable or that your past hurts are indicators that your future will also be full of hurt.
Whether the damaging or shameful things happened years or minutes ago, don’t try to carry them any longer. Our loving God didn’t suffer and die so that you would have a life of misery. God’s promise to Jeremiah the prophet is also a promise to us:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”Jeremiah 29:11
My embarrassment in that story I described earlier wasn’t the only thing that came out of that awful display of athleticism. While that play may not have been my brightest moment, it sparked an inbounds play that no other team in our conference had. My co-captain and I decided to put that strength to use and while everyone on the other team was worried I’d bounce the ball in, my sights were at the opposite end of the court where she was waiting to catch the ball I was about to launch. It worked every time— no one ever saw it coming. We took a certain sense of pride in our “rocket arm” play. God wants to transform your shame into victory in this same way.
The hard question for us to answer in all of this is— are we willing to surrender our grips on the past in order to live in unimaginable joy? I pray that we can say yes to that.
Help us, O God, to entrust our pasts to Your mercy.