“Yesterday’s a closing door–you don’t live there anymore,
So say goodbye to where you’ve been, and tell your heart to beat again.”
– from “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey –
When I was 6 or 7, I got a new bicycle.
Mom and Dad did all the things parents are supposed to do to teach kids to ride bikes. In fact, I’d been riding all manner of wheeled toys and smaller bikes for years.
But soon after I got this brand new bike, I crashed.
I was a tall, lanky little girl, and for the fellow tall people out there, you know that it takes a long time for us to fall. There’s just so much body that has to pass through the air before the ordeal is done with. In fact, that’s probably why I’m afraid of heights. Just walking around is a safety hazard.
For some reason, that bike crash put a sudden halt to all biking. For months, I refused to get back on it. Whether this was before the days of my family’s bike rides or whether my mom was just merciful and didn’t push me too hard to get back on, I didn’t get back on that skinny seat behind those pink handlebars for a long, long time.
It was a year later that I finally got up the courage to try again after my fall.
I was just a little girl who fell a few feet off a wobbly bike. Big deal. It wasn’t much of a risk. It wasn’t so scary. I certainly had the ability to get back up again, even immediately.
Instead, a year passed and I didn’t ride that bike once.
– – – – –
There are all sorts of things I could say about that lost year. I could highlight the wasted time, or camp for a while on my imagined danger. I could tell you how real and powerful that protective instinct was–so powerful that I can still feel the grasping panic of my bike-riding phobia.
But my childhood bicycling experience is not just a silly story of a child’s irrational fears. It is the story of another thing that we humans allow to define us: our Past.
For 12 months, my abilities and my choices were defined by that bike crash. It didn’t matter that I had successfully ridden bikes dozens of other times. I was too afraid that failure would happen again. I was frightened of being frightened, pained at the idea of another endless moment of falling.
The Past often paralyzes us.
Sometimes it doesn’t take the words of others to cripple us. Sometimes it just takes history.
The Past can define a person in many ways. Mistakes, failures, tragedies, habits, memories, grudges, sins, losses, even the status quo–all these relics of yesterday can profoundly shape and even control how someone lives today.
We all have stories.
I have a story. My story includes a bike wreck that led to a year of lost fun. My story includes emotional highs and lows that threaten to trip me up even this week. My story holds mistakes enough to paralyze me, and sorrows enough to scare me away from fully living.
My friends have stories. They have told me their stories of betrayal, abuse, terror, broken friendships, dysfunctional families, psychological horrors, and medical nightmares.
These things can be devastating! And they often are, because somewhere along the way, we start believing that our Past dictates our future. Even worse, we start to believe that we can never change.
And that is understandable, if you believe in closed systems and fixed pies.
The concept of a “fixed pie” is something I learned about in economics. Think about Thanksgiving dinner, when Grandma pulls out the pumpkin pie. “Fixed pie” means that there is only a certain amount of pie to go around. If Uncle Jerry takes half of the pie, all the other family members have to split up what is left. If Uncle Jerry eats the whole thing, there’s no more pie. End of story. People go away sad and hungry.
This is how people treat life. “I was this way yesterday, and I did the same things today. What makes tomorrow any different?” It’s a fixed pie. You’ve used up all the pie, and there’s no more pie to make tomorrow any different.
But I don’t believe in closed systems or fixed pies.
So let’s try another look at Thanksgiving.
Grandma brings out the pumpkin pie and there goes Uncle Jerry. Everyone is horrified that there is no more pie…and then Grandma brings out another pie…and another…and another.
She is adding pie to the “system.” It is not a closed system (meaning nothing can be added from outside). It is an open system. Grandma’s goodness (and her uncanny cooking skills) can save the day.
You see, I believe that today is a new day, and tomorrow is too. I believe that, as important as the Past is to your story, the Past doesn’t get a say in today.
But I only believe that for one reason.
You can’t add anything to “the system.” You can’t make more pumpkin pie. When a new sun rises, there’s nothing extra in you than there was yesterday.
But there is grace–the only grace that saves, from the only God who saves.
That grace says that, in Christ, you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). “My Jesus makes all things new,” as songwriter Andrew Peterson says.
That grace says the same power that raised Jesus back to life is the power that dwells inside of you, by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).
Can you change today?
No. Not even a little.
But God can change you, from the inside out.
Whatever the Past is holding over your head has no power over you, if the Lifter of your head makes you new.
Do you know what being defined by the Past is?
In many cases, it is fear. It is fear of letting go of who you have been and trusting God to make you into who you will be.
Fear always robs. Fear always drives others away. And, most often, overwhelming fear brings about the very thing that most terrifies you. “If you dig a pit, you will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27).
What is holding you back? What do you think you will never escape? What part of your past seems to control you?
I’ve got good news for you.
“Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him.”
– Lamentations 3:21-24, TLB
This is not just like all the other days you’ve ever lived.
Today is the tomorrow that Anne Shirley talked about, fresh and new and free of mistakes.
Today is the new-mercies day.
Will you cling to the fears of the Past? Or will you let Jesus make all things new in you?
“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”
– Ephesians 4:21-24, NLT –
“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.’ “
– John 13:7, CEB –
I get along quite well with most words, but there is one word I intensely dislike.
Not because I’m impatient (well, maybe a little…), but the word waiting is just so…dull. Lifeless. Boring. Blah.
When we talk about waiting–waiting to hear about a job, waiting for that scholarship board to make a decision, waiting for the right guy to come along, waiting for high school to end and college to begin–something settles over us.
When thoughts of waiting creep up on me, I think that I’m becoming discontent. Sometimes that is true, yes. But lots of times, I don’t think that is my problem. So, this is not a post about contentment. Sorry.
The word waiting seems so terrible because it takes my mind off the things God has me doing now, and puts my attention on the things God will do in the future.
The waiting isn’t the problem, actually. It’s not the poor word’s fault. The problem is ME. Even when I’m altogether happy with what God has given me to do in this season of my life, I can get wrapped up in the idea of waiting.
Waiting is not a bad word. The Bible talks about waiting on the Lord a lot. What I am talking about is the frequent use of “I’m just in a season of waiting,” as if we are not ALL in seasons of waiting. We’re always waiting on something, really. It’s not just a word for single girls to pull out to explain the lack of a significant other. In a constantly-changing world, there’s always going to be something coming up for us to dwell on. But that’s my point.
I would never tell you to stop thinking about the future. Single ladies, I would never tell you to completely stop thinking about getting married. Job seekers, I would never advocate ditching your career goals and living entirely for the moment. Mothers and wives, I would never tell you to stop thinking about when the kids will be grown-up, or when your husband will retire. That’s silly–the Bible commends wise planning and encourages us to look in hope to the future because God is in control (Proverbs 31:25; Romans 8:25; Romans 15:13).
However, I think the word waiting and I got off to a bad start because when I’m always thinking about what I’m waiting for, I lose the potency of the present moment. It’s good for me to smile at the happy things to come and to wonder what new bends in the road I’ll discover, but not at the cost of the Present.
You see, if I’m always focused on the waiting, I’ll never be able to concentrate on what God has given to me right now.
The concept of waiting has been rolling around in my mind for a while, and yesterday a novel I was reading helped me find the key. The book quoted from 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
“Give thanks in all things.”
Plenty of books have been written about giving thanks, but between a busy schedule and a large dose of forward thinking, it’s something I aspire to, but rarely do.
Do you know what else I’ve discovered?
Thanking is about trusting.
When I stop dwelling in the future and instead thank God for this moment (yes, even the hard moments), that is an act of faith. Deep down, I am declaring more than simple contentment. I am saying, “Lord, I have no idea what you will bring into my life tomorrow, but I trust you. I am not guaranteed one more moment than this moment, so in this moment, I praise you. In this moment, I choose to believe that You are good and faithful. With this moment, and every moment to come, I trust You.”
Waiting is not really my enemy–but I refuse to make it my full-time job. Tomorrow holds adventure, it’s true. But I am not living in Tomorrow, I’m living Today. I will praise Him today.
God took good care of yesterday. I trust Him with today.
Tomorrow is in good hands.
“I do not know what next may come
Across my pilgrim way;
I do not know tomorrow’s road,
Nor see beyond today.
But this I know — my Saviour knows
The path I cannot see;
And I can trust His wounded hand
To guide and care for me.
I do not know what may befall,
Of sunshine or of rain;
I do not know what may be mine,
Of pleasure and of pain;
But this I know — my Saviour knows
And whatsoe’er it be,
Still I can trust His love to give
What will be best for me.
I do not know what may await,
Or what the morrow brings;
But with the glad salute of faith,
I hail its opening wings;
For this I know — that my Lord
Shall all my needs be met;
And I can trust the heart of Him,
Who has not failed me yet.”
– E. Margaret Clarkson –
Laughter is a form of release, a kind of surrender to the moment. It is, when sincere, truly opening yourself to the joy of right now, almost a form of unconscious thanksgiving.
I want to laugh.
Tomorrow is a crazy, uncontrolled thing. Scary at times, uncertain, wild as wind.
I want to laugh.
But I can’t quite decide what kind of laugh I want. Some laughs are overdone, annoying. Some aren’t even worth the breath used, as dry and mirthless as a frown.
I want a laugh that is alive, brimming over with joy and faith in the God who holds not only my history and moments, but the history yet to be written, and the moments yet to be born.
I want to laugh, because I believe that in and beyond all the weary frustrations and holy moments there is a wild, sacred joy that lays just beyond my stretching fingers. I brush the fringes, the outskirts of the Uncontainable. The shivers run up my fingers–hot, cold, jolting–like an electric current, like a sea of blue ice.
A laugh can be a prayer, a fountain bubbling up.
A laugh can be forgiveness, soothing over a fault with love, the healing of a joyful spirit. Laughing at ourselves, knowing when to be serious and knowing when it is good to just see the humor in our constant relational contortions.
A laugh can be faith, a kind of looking toward the dawn that is sure to come…but is not quite yet seen.
Strong, brave, joyous is the woman who can lift up her face to the road ahead and truly laugh.
“She laughs at the days to come…”
– Proverbs 31:25 –
Is there a “Christian” laugh?
I think so.
The laugh of faith.
The Christian laughs at this life where condemnation is the only expected reward and yet we get…grace.
Grace! For us, the rebels who ran. Grace, because God came to us.
Laughter of boundless joy, of faith in a God of impossibilities, was a familiar thing to Abraham:
“The laughter of Abraham and Sarah at the angel’s extraordinary announcement does not eliminate the darkness, because through the long, childless years of the past, darkness has already taken its toll, and in the long years that lie ahead there will be darkness for them still as, for instance, when Abraham is asked to take the child of the promise and offer him to God as a burnt offering. They both still have to face the darkness both of death and of life in a world where God is seen at best only from afar, through a glass darkly; but with their laughter something new breaks into their darkness, something so unexpected and preposterous and glad they can only laugh at it in astonishment….It all happened not of necessity not inevitably, but gratuitously, freely, hilariously. And what was astonishing, gratuitous, hilarious was, of course, the grace of God.”
– Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, pages 56, 57, emphasis mine –
This grace of God is what secures our tomorrow. This grace of God is why we can laugh the laugh of faith.
Abraham’s laugh was smack in the middle of a long journey to an unknown land. The apostle Paul sang in a cell. Jesus rejoiced between planning ministry trips, condemning the hardness of Israel’s heart, and debating with lawyers (Luke 10:21-22).
Laughter is not about reaching the end of the journey, getting out of the prison, escaping from the crowds.
Laughter is about faith in a God of grace, who has a glorious plan–not only for this day, but also for the days to come.
Lift up your faces to the dawn and laugh–He holds the Future!
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 4:4-7, NKJV –