"...but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us." (Philippians 3:13b-14)
"But I focus on this one thing." I've been focusing, all right. But in the wrong ways. I am focused on my past. I have done so many stupid things that have nothing to do whatsoever with Jesus. And while Jesus has forgiven me a million times over, I have yet to forgive myself.
And let me be clear here. Yes, I became a mom as a teenager. Becoming a mom at the age of nineteen to my amazing oldest son was the amazing GRACE and BLESSING I got when I absolutely didn't deserve it. He is not a mistake. He is not an accident. I do not regret him one bit. The things that I regret are the ones leading up to discovering he existed and then a few things there-after.
I regret many of the choices that I made as a teenager. I do not regret my child. I regret choosing to marry his biological father. I do not regret my son. I don't even know if he'll ever read these words and I don't care who else reads them on the off chance that he will because he needs to know. He is not a regret. He is not a mistake. He is not an accident. He. Is. A. Blessing. He was always meant to be exactly who he is.
Psalm 139:16 says it like this:
"You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed."
Oddly, or probably not so oddly, all the books I've read recently have touched on the idea of learning from your past rather than dwelling on it and living there. God knows that I love to read. It's quite possibly my favorite thing in the entire world. So what better way to speak to my heart on this than to place his words on those pages written by some of my favorite authors?
Today I want to focus on three things to do with that past, whether yours is good or bad or maybe somewhere in between the two.
1. Learn from your past. Romans 15:4 says this: "Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled."
We are not perfect. Not one of us, no matter how hard we try, can ever be perfect. You've seen a small glimpse of my teenage years. You already know that I'm not and I'm telling you that I know it too. These words are more for me than for anyone else. There's a reason that history books exist and that we continue to read over and over again through things that happened long ago. They are there to teach us, to help us learn how to do life well.
I know that I did some stupid things in my younger days and I have two choices. I can dwell on it, beating myself up for all the mistakes I made or I can learn from them. I have definitely learned from them! I know that God's design for marriage and for sex are good. They are right. I know it so deeply inside me that I am committed to raising my children knowing these things. If they choose to make these same mistakes after listening to their parents advice, at least I know that God also tells us this: "He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us." (2 Corinthians 1:4)
I'll be there for my babies whether they make the good choices or the bad ones. And that brings us to thought number two.
2. God will use the good, the bad, and the ugly for his glory. Romans 8:28 says it like this: "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."
Joseph said it well in Genesis 50:20 when speaking to his brothers about their evil plan: "Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people."
That teen pregnancy I experienced? I can't tell you the number of teen moms that I have encountered over the last sixteen years. And rather than looking at them through a lens of judgment, I am able to see them through that rare lens of a young and unexpected pregnancy. I can remember feeling what they are feeling. I recall clearly each time that I told someone my news and the response I got. Pregnancy is an exciting time ALWAYS. Not just when we plan it. I know from my own experience that all life should be celebrated, not just the life that we decided to "make happen."
I remember one young mom well as it was just a few years ago. She needed a ride to her doctor's appointments and I was there to give them. In that time, we got to talk about a lot of things- abortion, adoption, and Jesus were up there. To be clear, she never considered abortion (yay Jesus!) but it is so prevalent in our culture that it is something pushed at teen moms as a solution to their "problem." As if a baby, given by God himself, could ever be a problem. In fact, not only do I know lots of young moms who have gone this route, but this sweet young teen mom had a friend making that choice at the same time that she herself was sitting there choosing life.
Believe it or not, the decision to be there for other young moms as others were there for me was one of the best ways for me to begin the forgiving myself process. And I also got to see exactly how great a gift my baby truly was (and still is of course!). As an aside, he is this awesome and super tall 16 year old right now. Very talented in film making and going into his junior year of high school. I am a proud mama.
I have to add this, though I'm sure we all know it. None of what you did, are doing now, or will do are a surprise to him.
I love this verse from The Message, Psalm 139:3- "You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight."
Jesus sees it all. He knows what we are doing. He knows the choices we'll make. I like to think of it like how well we know our kids. Most of us know what our kids are going to do before they do it. We can see it on their faces. We can almost hear the wheels turning in their heads. There are often times that one of my own kids gets a "warning mom look" before they make the bad choice in public. Haha. God is like that too, but better. He knows us better than we know ourselves. It wasn't a surprise to him when you made the choices you made. He is going to work them together for good. With any luck, you'll get to see those ugly things from your past reworked into something beautiful some day.
And that brings us to the final point.
3. Let it go and forgive yourself, because God already has. Isaiah 43:18 says it this way: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past."
We don't live there. The past is exactly that- the past. We live here in the present and must choose, over and over again, to forgive ourselves and let it go like Elsa.
I know that in our culture, forgiveness is often treated like a feeling but it's not. You aren't going to "feel" like you've forgiven yourself for a long time- if ever. It's a choice that you make. You are choosing to tell Satan to take a hike. You are choosing to release your grip on your yucky past. Let God's light hit that choice. It helped shape you into who you have become today. Let God use it for his good purpose.
Psalm 25:4 has a great reminder for us: "Do not remember the rebellious sins of my youth. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord."
And also Hebrews 8:12- "They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean."
God has already forgiven us. It's our turn now. We must forgive us now. So what do we do instead then?
Let's look back at Philippians 3:13b-14 again, one more time:
"...but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us."
Once we have "forgotten our past," we are called to press on toward our goals for the future with Jesus to the place where God is calling us. Where is he calling you? Listen for his voice. He'll tell you. Read your Bible- he speaks through it to his people, even today.
My goals for my future can be summed up in my life verse:
" Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that." (Ephesians 5:1-2)
If you don't have a life verse yet, start reading the Bible and see if one stands out to you. The thing I love about these verses is that it talks about God's extravagant love and urges us to love like He loves. All of my goals for my life fit within that verse. I want to be the best wife I can be, a great mom, a great friend, a great daughter and sister...I want to share Jesus with anyone who will listen- or read, as the case may be. I want to love God so well that it oozes from me. Those are my goals. What are yours?
I know this is a long one today and I am ever so thankful to anyone who has gotten this far. This is my challenge to you today. Find the things that you can take from your past as learning opportunities and release the rest to him. Then find a life verse and figure out how it relates to the goals you have for your life.
Here are a few other verses that I adore that may speak to you or lead you to your own:
2 Corinthians 1:4- "He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us."
Proverbs 3:5-6- "Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track."
Philippians 2:14-16- "Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.' Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain."
Jeremiah 29:11- "'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.'"
Let's pray together today that God will help us to choose forgiveness for ourselves, that he will shine brightly and we will stand in that light with him. I also pray that God uses all of our choices for his good purpose.