Among the voices telling me to forget about the past, my own was the loudest. My husband and I once bought a Dr. Phil book which required making a timeline of our lives. We went out for coffee to fill it out, and found ourselves swallowed up by a dark cloud.
We discovered both of us felt so much shame, we couldn’t talk, write or even think about our childhood without drowning ourselves in indulgent amounts of chocolate and pastries.
This first attempt to understand ourselves lasted as long as the mocha in our cups. We went home, shut up the book and tried to forget our memories for another six years. Meanwhile our past continued to affect us.
We can never avoid the truth,
we can only prolong the day
when we will have to deal with it.
-Dr. Tim Jennings
Just as not all who wander are lost, not all who examine the past are sad. The past is our friend. It reveals who we are, where we came from and why we do the things we do.
There’s big a difference between living in the past and understanding your past. The first includes resentment for what can’t be changed, but the latter seeks understanding.
I read once that we don’t really grow up until we stop living our lives to please our parents. It was hard for me to stop this because I had been programmed to please them before I thought of myself. The biggest compliment my parents ever gave me was that I was thoughtful and so I tried to do everything they asked me–whether it made me happy or not. And part of that deal was to never bring up the past.
In the last couple years, I have decided to give myself permission to remember. My pastor had a class a few years ago about how our emotions affect our spirituality. I went home determined to fill out my life’s timeline, but it took weeks. Part of the complications included the fact I had moved over forty times before I was twenty and some of those places were not in houses, creating even more confusion.
My life stories were like a big wad of tangled laundry where the whites were not sorted from the coloreds and the sheets were twisted into the mix. I felt like a little kid who hates to clean their room because they don’t know where to start.
I started by saying a prayer for courage, then I wrote down one memory at a time. The first memories were good ones. As a little child, I felt loved and cared for by both parents. It seems they started with the best intentions to give me a good life and teach me about God. I found comfort in remembering the first few years of my life.
The past reveals new information–but not new memories. My memories had always been there, but I’d been afraid to acknowledge them. It was like matching up socks—some parts were missing, so I wrote what I could and moved on. Sometimes later in the pile, I would find a missing part and go back and match it up.
We all have a right to our own memories and no one can take them away from us. They also don’t have the right to judge us for remembering. God created us to remember so we could grow up. To deny our past is to forget our good times and our mistakes. We need both. To ask someone to forget their memories is to ask them to play dead for those years. It is a denial of life at the basic level.
I ran into events which seemed shameful and I wanted to avoid them, but I began to realize the things that happened years ago can’t reach out and bite me today. As I progressed through my life, I took some time to mourn the sad events before I moved on. Reflecting on these events turned out to be cathartic. As I revisited each event, I noticed things looked different from maturity than they did when I was a child, teenager or young adult.
As I collected my stories I began to see the general shape of where I’ve been and how I want to improve the pattern. I began to see my entire life from God’s perspective. I realized that no matter where I have lived or how I was treated or how lonely I felt at times, Jesus has always been right beside me–only a prayer away. This gave me a lot of peace.
Healing comes when we place all the pieces of our lives next to each other. It’s like lining up quilt blocks. Some lives appear to be filled with neat and orderly quilt squares, but mine resembled a crazy quilt with jagged edges, odd shapes and mismatched colors.
The more we understand our past. The more we understand our own choices and accept our healing–part of this process is to share our stories with each other. Brene Brown says the antidote to shame is empathy. By telling our stories to trusted people who reflect empathy back to us, we can stop feeling sick from the toxic shame of our past and a new picture will emerge.
I think of this process as creating a quilt of integrity. The root word for integrity is to integrate. My life quilt includes pieces of a little girl beaten, a teenage girl denied a high school education, a young adult struggling to help her family, and now the middle aged woman who is trying to stitch it all together to make sense of it.
Integrating my entire life has brought peace. I accept the past, I forgive my parents and myself and anyone who has hurt me and I am able to live wholeheartedly because the mysterious baggage of my past has been sorted out.
If you have been discouraged by family for remembering your childhood, you might have been raised in a controlling family. I hope by sharing my story, you will find courage to explore your own stories. It’s okay to remember–that’s why God gave you a mind. And if people make fun of you for remembering something sad, God won’t. He keeps a record of our lives—not to condemn us as some people believe, but to reassure us of how much He has been leading us all along.
You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.