Hi everyone. Rob here.
In the end it all catches up with you. That’s the message I’m getting as I read Bruce Springsteen’s colourful autobiography, “Born to Run.” His dedication to his craft caught up with him and he enjoyed great success. His original loyalty to his New Jersey bandmates caught up with him and they are now with him every step of the way. But also his traumatic childhood, his emotionally withdrawn father and his own commitment to control caught up with him, leading to failed relationships and an incapacity to deal with real life. The fact that he can now name those things speaks to his commitment to therapy and gaining emotional health, but the truth remains: In the end it all catches up with you. So are we still running or increasing our emotional and spiritual capacity to receive and process the messages from our past?
Let me be clear. If you want emotional and spiritual health you need God’s interpretation of your past experiences, relationships and decisions. As John Eldredge has noted, as children we are keen observers but poor interpreters. Our instincts for self-protection, for belonging and people-pleasing means that we learn to put up whatever front is necessary for us to survive and, at times, even succeed. But it can’t last. Just as a faulty foundation will be exposed in an earthquake or cyclone, our manufactured front will be exposed when we face trauma, or emotional demands that seem beyond our capacity to handle.
This exposure is utterly frightening and the best thing that could ever happen to us. When our poses and our fronts no longer work, and we’re standing in the arena with nothing but a figleaf, then it’s time to get real. It’s time to get real about grace. Jesus tells a story about two sons who suffer from interpretation issues. For whatever reason they don’t trust their Father’s love or goodness. One disowns the father, taking his share of the inheritance and blows it all. The other dutifully works in the estate, believing that he’s earning the father’s favour, and one day he will get his dues. The profligate son returns, now disowning his sonship, desperate to be employed as a servant. To this son the father bestows all the emblems of sonship; the robe, the ring, the kiss and the party. The dutiful son sees this wastefulness, this illogical grace and seethes. What is the point of his dutiful service, his sacrificial obedience if his worthless brother gets a feast just for coming home? To this son the father gives a different lesson: “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours.”
Here’s the lesson: they were always sons and they were always loved. They had nothing to prove. All they had to do was receive the father’s love and let it into their hearts. This is the gift that Jesus, our older brother, brings us. He invites us to receive the Father’s love, a love that he knows intimately, by receiving him. If we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father because Jesus shares his Father’s heart, mind and mission. The Spirit sweeps us up into their love and unity and we get to enjoy life in God’s estate, his kingdom. The sons can now look back on their lives and see that their father’s love was always with them, in good times and hard, in sickness and health, in generosity and in discipline. So a starting point for us in having our past re-interpreted is to ask Jesus, where were you? Where were you when we lost our baby? Where were you when my parents divorced? Where were you when my friends betrayed me? You get the picture. Make it a genuine question, not an accusation. Assume that Jesus was there and let him show you. It will require time, stillness, curiosity and faith. Over many years of this I can now look back on my past with a lot more gratitude and joy. God was with me as I grew up. He has re-interpreted many of my difficult experiences. He has set me free in many ways. I pray that as you enter into this process you will experience the same. It is a lifelong journey. You may need counselling or more specialized help. You may need a spiritual director. You will certainly need friends and allies. Most of all you need to know that you are loved.
Grace and peace everyone.