“I am in the emergency room at your hospital. Come quick.”
I instantly lost all color in my face and went into a panic. Did someone hurt her?! Was it a car accident?!
“Lord please, not my mom. Let her be okay,” is all I could think as I ran to the emergency room from the laboratory. (I work there part-time as a Medical Laboratory Scientist).
As I franticly approached the security guard outside the emergency room, fumbling around to find my work I.D. so I could be let in, I happened to glance over his shoulder and … see my mom. But she was in the waiting room.
Completely confused, I walked over to her and asked what was going on. She said, “My friend was in a minor car accident. She’s okay, but I knew you were here, and I wanted to see you.” Despite seeing with my own eyes the truth that she was not harmed, it still did not immediately erase the emotions of what I just experienced.
Often, that’s what happens after experiencing trauma as a Christian. There’s leftover residue.
When I was struggling with depression not too long ago, as much as I loved Jesus, reading about His promises did not resonate with me. As a Christian, I knew that “our sins are washed away and we are made clean” (Hebrews 10:10) and “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
But those truths did not erase the memory. Memory is what allows failure, rejection, guilt and shame to follow.
What is shame?
Shame is that all-too-human experience of worthlessness, failure and not belonging. It can come from what we have done or from what others have done to us.
When dealing with past sins which haunt us, the goal isn’t denying your memory that it happened, but rather reinterpretation.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and biblical counselor Robert D. Jones says, “What you actually remember are not the past events per se, but the past events as you interpret them. They are not bare facts, but interpreted facts. As such, they are capable of reinterpretation. Herein lies hope! God can help you put the right interpretation — a biblical spin — on your past and make your past a good thing for you.”
1. It’s not up to us to find the equation to why something happened, but instead to accept that it did happen.
God not only uses the good in our life, but He also uses what we deem bad. When I was suffering, it was so easy to only see myself — the “if onlys” — and sulk. But the truth is that God was there when I failed Him as much as He is there any other day.
And that was pivotal. God is in your past. Before Christianity or after, the omnipresence of God is near and intends all harm to be used for a greater purpose. Joseph models this in Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
2. Behind the guilt, shame, rejection and failure is the root of a memory that is being interpreted in an inaccurate way.
Again, the goal is not denying the past but flipping the script and reinterpreting. Consider Bathsheba who had gotten pregnant during an adulterous affair with David, who then had her husband Uriah killed in battle and married the widow.
David and Bathsheba’s firstborn died, but she later became pregnant again and had Solomon. Solomon was a result of a long lineage of bad decisions. Yet through him, God’s promises were fulfilled. God even used the lies of a prostitute, Rahab, to continue the family line of Jesus (Joshua 2, Matthew 1).
Our most wicked plans; our biggest failures; the residue of shame from our past sin can never thwart the perfect plan of God (Genesis 37-50).
3. Memories can be one of the driving forces which push you toward repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and seeking redemption.
Paul’s testimony in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 says, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man…” He does not avoid mentioning his past sins.
Paul then illustrates how his past sins drove him to Christ and how they were (and still are) being used: “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief … But for the very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who believe in Him and receive eternal life.”
An advantage of this memory is that it wards off the temptation of becoming prideful, which therefore yields humility, thus, enabling your story to make you a more effective minister of the Word.
It’s unbiblical to deny our past. We can never erase our memories, but we can learn to embrace them as part of our story — as part of God’s story. Nothing can happen without His consent, and He will not allow a difficulty without purpose.
Let every tear remind us that God comforts (Psalm 147:3). Let every hurt remind us that God heals (Psalms 34:18) and every circumstance reveals God’s sovereignty.
“The good news is that if you belong to Jesus, then God has something better for you,” Jones said. “God does not want to remove your memories; He wants to redeem them. God wants to transform them into something good, something beneficial, something that will help you become more like Him.”
“Do you see the hope this breeds for Christians? Your bad memories of your past sins — even the heinous ones — can provide life changing growth. You do not need to avoid, run from, cover up or get rid of your past. You can reinterpret it God’s way. God’s goal is neither memory erasure nor memory denial, but memory redemption.”