October 31, 2015. The sky is a dark shade of gray. I lay in bed listening to the rain pattering on the metal roof above my head, a continuous rhythm that lulls me in and out of late morning sleep. Yes, late morning sleep. Completely out of my “up every day at 4:30 a.m.” character, I lay here in a state of complete mental and physical exhaustion. I have been sidelined from my ritualistic morning running and/or walking by an acute case of Achilles tendinitis and sentenced to a state of inactivity. To say that I am addicted to this form of adrenalin producing, serotonin boosting start to my day is an understatement. But today, my cranky ankle and the dreariness outside have given me permission to rest, something I obviously have not done fully in a very long time.
As I rotate my ankle, flexing and relaxing my foot and calf, longing for signs of improvement, my mind begins its own spinning exercise. A circle of emotions begin to make their rounds. The mixed up thoughts and feelings that have churned inside of me the last couple of months didn’t have their morning run talking-to and found a cozy place to settle. When life is busy, as I like mine to be, I don’t have time to deal with mind matters of this nature so I find ways to push them aside. Distant If Only’s: If only I hadn’t gotten sick; If only I’d pursued that other degree in college. If only I had tried harder. Recent regrets over opportunities missed or ridiculous arguments had. The loss of my dog (for me, my best friend through thick and thin), my mother’s illness, relationship rollercoaster rides, questions of purpose and future, financial stresses, the casual annoyances of life… all usually get pounded into the pavement on a daily basis. But, this morning I have nowhere to push them to.
October 31, 1517 was a pivotal day for Martin Luther, an Augustine monk who was disturbed by the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences as a means to attain God’s grace. On this day nearly 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed his disputations of this and other church practices that have become known as the 95 Theses, to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. He believed our sins were forgiven on the cross and not by our paying of indulgences to the church. Without going into a complete history lesson of the day and the repercussions that followed, let me summarize it as the day that began the Protestant movement in the Christian faith and the birth of the Lutheran church. Today, Reformation Day is a jubilant, celebratory day in the life of the Lutheran Church as well as other protestant denominations. So that it coincides with our Sunday worship services, we now observe Reformation Day on the last Sunday in October.
This morning, the message preached last Sunday on Reformation Day 2015 floods over me as I lay here dissecting my heart, mind, and life to the patter of the rain. Far from being a celebratory sermon on the great vision of Martin Luther, the message on the power of regret hit deep into my core as I sat listening in the pew wearing my traditional Reformation Day red.
How can I celebrate and call myself reformed if I let my past regrets, losses, troubles, broken relationships, bad decisions, good decisions that went awry, sins and self-doubts keep me from living in the light of God in the present? I am so focused on making self-improvements, making amends, being there for others, and gaining in life for a better tomorrow that I overlook the importance of being great at what I am today. How can I be great at who I am today and move forward in life if I continue to allow the past to hold on to and stifle the life I am living now?
I know I am not the only one who struggles with the tenacious grip of the past on our present. A friend of mine recently posted this quote by Karen Salmansohn on Facebook:
“Don’t let the darkness of your past, block the light of joy in your present. What happened is done. Stop giving time to things that no longer exist when there is so much joy to be found in the here and now.”
Right away my friend had several replies on her post: “my struggle”, etc.
Why do we allow the sins, regrets, and other darkness’s of our past lay such a claim on our lives? In addition why do we let others hold us in that darkness? Certainly, I am not saying that we are not responsible for the lives we have lived. Our actions have consequences. But how do we move beyond our pasts in order to be fruitful in the present and why do we struggle so in the process?
Perhaps because the past is familiar, and thus comfortable despite the pain it causes. Goodness only knows what is waiting for us in the light of a fresh new day. When we allow God to shine His light in our lives, it’s bound to turn up things we need to clean up, dust off, or kick to the curb. The enlightened life He wants us to live holds far more possibilities for us then the stifling darkness of the past. But moving into the light doesn’t just happen because we say so or write eloquently about it Facebook. It requires faith, trust, perseverance, and acceptance that we are all sinners, not perfect and yet worthy – worthy of perfecting for the possibilities that lay before us.
As I laid in bed listening to the incessant rain, (like I said, it was a very late morning sleep-in!) thinking about my current state – from my cranky ankle to my wayward, regret-filled condition in life, I decided I want to be happier, now, in the present! God has been shining His light in my life for long enough that I know the possibilities that await and I am well aware of the chains that currently hold me back.
So, just as Martin Luther did with his pent up frustrations with the church 500 years ago, on this rainy actual Reformation Day I came up with a few theses of my own to reform and rejoice in life – just not 95 of them!
- Make peace with myself. Yes I have screwed up, many, many times and by doing so I have complicated a few other lives as well. But we lived to tell about it and apparently God still loves me and them even more.
- Be authentic to who I am. My past life made me who I am today – the adversity and the triumphs- I must own it, learn from it, and try not to regret it.
- Turn that past adversity into opportunity. God still has some work to do in me but eventually he will use that adversity for something.
- Stop playing the role of “victim.” No more, why me, God? Its life, and despite this being the most over used self-help cliché ever – no one ever said it would be easy. Life is not “my fault” or someone else’s. Life is just that. Life.
- Embrace change. Who knows, maybe my cranky ankle and exhausted mind is telling me something. I won’t give up what I love, but I won’t let it enslave me either. Busy-ness is good but a busy body needs rest.
- Continue making every day count. Yep, even days like this where all I do is think and write and don’t even go outside. I always thought I did this – after having a brush with death how could I not – but in reality, I have been too busy worrying about what was or will be to really live for the day.
- Remember the words of my Dad, “I matter!” I might not be extraordinary or have a scholarly resume, or find a cure for cancer, but my life in all its simplicity and complexity, still matters.
- Let go. This is the one area that will take the most faith, hope and trust in God. I don’t let go easily. I do not quit.
- Get a dog. Nothing makes life more joy-filled and in the present (wake up, now it’s time for me) than the responsibility for and the companionship and loyal love of a dog. In my humble opinion.
While the rain outside continues to fall, I am up and out of bed, ready to truly live a life in the light of God. God has far more power over my life than regret. I have far more strength than “if only’s” ever will. I refuse to be a slave to the past, that which was forgiven on the cross of Jesus. In Him, I can be free to strive toward the possibilities he has waiting for me, to become more like Him, trusting in Him to guide and love me along the way. If you struggle to let go of the past and live in the light, I hope you see that you are not alone and that one or two of my personal reformations will help you along the path to freedom too.
“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it 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: 12-14