I was listening to the radio, halfway tuned in. They were having people call in to say what they hoped they would be remembered for. Immediately I felt flushed. Heat was rising from the knot in my stomach to my cheeks that were glowing red. In a flash I was reminded of all of the disgraceful things I have done. I have a shameful past. A past that I fear will haunt me for the rest of my life.
My past is not what defines me.
According to God’s Word I am a new creation. There are days that I cling to 2 Corinthians 5:17 with a white knuckle grip. I hate days like that, but they happen.
I live in a very small town. And it’s the same small town that I grew up in. Small towns are great for many things. I know most of the teachers my oldest daughter has had in school. If I didn’t know them directly, there’s a good chance I know one of their relatives. I know a lot of the parents of my daughter’s friends. That’s just how it is here.
But one thing that is unfortunate about living in this same small town where I know a lot of people, at least to me it is unfortunate, is that those same people know me. They know my past. They know I threw words around with no remorse, filthy words. They know I went places I shouldn’t have gone, with people I shouldn’t have been around, and did things I shouldn’t have done.
What they might not know about me is that’s not who I am anymore. And that’s one thing that scares me. One of my greatest fears is that my past, to some people, will always be what defines me. When I see them at the grocery store, at my daughter’s school functions, sometimes at my church, I wonder if they are remembering the old me or if they know I’ve been made new.
God’s Word encourages me. There are plenty of people in His holy Word who did some pretty awful things. Despite their awfulness, He still allowed their name to be recorded in Scripture.
Jacob, for example, came out of the womb with a name that means “heel grabber” but it also meant “deceiver”. And he lived up, or down, to that name. He was deceptive. He deceived his brother and his dying father, but then something changed Jacob. He wrestled with God and God changed his name from Jacob the deceiver to Israel which means “God fights.” And He would. God’s chosen people came from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The nation of Israel, who God fights for, came from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the deceiver who wrestled with God and was given a new name by God because God changed Jacob. His past did not define him. His past, although it is recorded, is not what he is mostly remembered for.
I could totally chase a rabbit here and go on and on about Jacob for days but that’s not the point I want to make. What I am seeing and I hope you see it too, is that the names we have been called in our past are not the names we have to be remembered for. We don’t have to continue living down to those names.
God changed me. He wrestled with me for years. And for years I ran. I lived down to the names I had been called until life knocked the breath out of me. I had nothing left in me. My heart was broken into a million pieces and in the dark of it all I wrestled with God. Quite honestly, I didn’t want Him to win. I didn’t want to have to change. I wanted to continue living the way I always had. Why should I have to change?
Then, one day as I looked at myself in the mirror I thought, “Who are you? You aren’t a Christian. You aren’t godly. You are ______, and _______, and ________.” All the names I had been living down to seemed stamped across my face. But there was a faint whisper telling me “Not anymore. You are new. You are beautiful. You are precious. You are flawless. You are pure. You are called. You are redeemed. You are restored. You are MINE.”
Just like that.
The names I had been called in the past were gone. Erased. He renamed me. Names that I wanted to live up to. Names that I wanted to define me.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19