guilt · Spirituality · transitions

Letting go

My son tells me I’m easily ‘guilted’. At a young age he learned that he could usually get his way if he could make me feel even a tiny bit bad about saying no!

 It’s true that I struggle with letting go of real or imagined offenses from the past, a harsh word I said fifteen years ago or a thank you note I didn’t send.  I’ve learned to tell myself that these thoughts are not from a forgiving God, but old mental tapes are hard to erase.

As I’m transitioning into retirement, I’m finding that the guilt baggage follows me. I wake up at night worrying about problems from my old job that are over and done with, things I should have done better or people I could have treated better. These demons love to cavort at night and to remind me of all my shortcomings and inadequacies.

The problem with these midnight accusers is that I start to believe them and then I become stuck. The reality is that we can’t go back and change our past. God may be calling us to do great things for Him but if we are too busy worrying about old failures, we may miss out. Letting go of the past is an important part of moving through transition times.

Paul in the New Testament is a great example of someone who overcame this self-defeating mindset. He knew something about guilt. In his former life as a proud Pharisee, he was not only instrumental in sending many people to prison — which was probably a death sentence in that day— but he stood by and held the coats of those who were stoning Stephen to death. Surely he had sleepless nights as that scene replayed in his mind.

Yet Paul never let his regrets or guilt over his former life keep him from carrying out what he believed God was calling him to do. His letter to the Philippians gives us insight into how he overcame his demons:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:13-14)

           Forgetting what is behind. Paul kept looking forward, not focusing on what he did before he knew Christ. He had been an important Pharisee and a big-wig teacher of the law before his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road. Earlier in the chapter, he gives us a look into what his previous life was like:

You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. (Phil. 3:4-6)

When I read these lines, I wonder if he ever missed that old life. Did he think about his former students with whom he had shared his love of the Scriptures? Did he miss the discussions with his colleagues or the respect he received from the people at the synagogue? What about his family, with whom he presumably cut ties? Did he grieve for those relationships? Certainly, his misguided zeal to eradicate the dangerous Christians must have colored his memories.

Straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal. When I was a child, we moved several times with Daddy’s job. My mother, who didn’t work outside the home, was responsible for the move, getting the new house settled, making sure  my sister and I were situated in school and finding new friends for herself. Mama looked at each new move as an adventure and never complained. If she pined for old friends, she never talked about it. She just did the work in front of her, always optimistic that it would be better than our previous home, and it was. This was true even when she sold her house and moved into an apartment after my father died.

Paul teaches us that at times in our lives, like my mother, we have to make the decision to let go of the past and focus on what is before us. We may have to allow ourselves time to grieve but there comes a point where we have to turn our heads and look at what is down the road. We still have the memories, especially the good ones, but we have to set them aside.

 Letting go of the past, whether happy or painful, can be extremely difficult. We have to be patient with ourselves, keep persevering, and keep praying. God has promised we don’t have to do it by ourselves.

To win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Paul admits that he does not have it down perfectly, but he feels so strongly about the work of bringing others to Christ that none of the past even matters to him (v. 8) When we point our faces toward change, no telling what we can accomplish.

Spirituality

Transitioning

Life is changing Under the Magnolia Tree! Now we have two retired folks living here and we have not killed each other yet, although there are days when we just keep out of each other’s way.  Transitions are not always easy.

 But despite the adjustments, I am loving retirement. I love the freedom and the time. I love that my mind is not cluttered with everything that needs to be done. I love that when I get back from an early morning run at 7 am I’m not rushing to get dressed and go to school! I love having time to cook and read and sit down with Keith in the evening.  

Without sounding too melodramatic, I feel like I’m where I’ve wanted to be for most of my life. I feel so at peace being able to study the Bible, write, work at church and make my home a priority.  

This past weekend I attended the Northwest Georgia Christian Writers’ Conference and it was a Spirit filled time of encouragement and reflection. Over and over I heard that I need to listen for God’s leading in my writing, to persevere and to not worry about the outcome. The editors, agents and writers who were there were accomplished and professional, yet at the same time spoke openly about the painful times in their lives, and how God brought them through. I met so many amazing people who are writing books, blogs and devotionals while working full time and raising kids. I felt that instant rapport with them that comes from the Holy Spirit. 

I’ve been praying about how God wants to use my writing and I felt Him speaking to me at the conference. So, I’m making some changes to this blog. Starting in September, I’m doing my first series. Since I’m going through a transition time, I want to look at how some people in the Bible got through changes in their lives. I hope you will take a few minutes each week to read and that you will feel God speaking to you through the lives of Jesus’ mother Mary, Peter, Paul and Moses.  

I’m stepping out on faith to go through the doors God is opening. As Mark Hancock said at the last night of the conference — If it doesn’t take faith, is it worth doing? 

Christianity · Spirituality

New Traffic Pattern Ahead

I turn 60 today, a milestone in many ways. Decade birthdays are always a time to reflect — at 30 I thought I was old (not), at 40 I thought I would quit worrying about what others thought (didn’t happen), at 50 I was finally starting to feel empowered. Conversely, 60 doesn’t feel old. Maybe it’s because 60 is the beginning of being elderly. I’m young for an old person, kind of like freshman year.

This birthday is a special turning point for me because I’m now eligible to retire. So at the end of May, I’m will be hanging up my school media specialist ‘Super-cape’ and moving onto my next chapter.

I’m not a person who loves change, so knowing that I’m leaving this part of my life and the fun and amazing people I’ve known for the last nine years, carries a gamut of emotions. I love my library with its blue and green walls that I painted myself, the books that I painstakingly ordered, the stuffed couches and chairs that the kids fight over. On those days that students are lying across the couch reading, or quietly browsing books I feel at peace. Those are the times I love.

But I’ve been praying about this for a long time and it’s time for a change. I’m ready to have time to write, visit friends and family and explore other avenues. I’ve been asking God to show me what He wants me to do but He hasn’t gotten back to me with any specific plans yet.

The other night I was having a small panic attack over the retirement- how will I fill my days? Will I have enough money? Will I get lonesome spending my time writing? Will Keith and I kill each other? I started searching the internet for some kind of job I could do when I felt God gently nudging me. “Just relax and let me work it out,” He said. “It’s okay to take some time off to just be.”

I crave time to be. My mind stays full of what I need to do at school, what I need to defrost for dinner, when I’m going to work in a run or time to write, and how to cram in all the pieces of being a good friend, wife, and mother. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. And I’m not even as busy as most people I know.

God has given me a metaphor for this season of my life. For the past two years, the bridge over the interstate that I take every day has been under construction. I wrote about it in a previous blog. While the DOT workers have been out laboring in all kinds of weather on the new part, those of us driving across have to go through an awkward series of stop signs and confusing arrows. The area is littered with orange cones and piles of concrete and fencing. It’s been inconvenient and aggravating.

But progress is slowly being made and signs are now up with squiggly lines showing how to go around the soon to come roundabouts and where to turn to get on I 75. A big encouraging sign is up that says “New traffic pattern ahead.”

I can see the new road next to me as I maneuver the old one. It’s right there, but I can’t ride on it yet. I’m not sure what it will be like. I imagine it will take a little while to get used to its new curves and turns. It might even be scary and confusing at the beginning. But once I’m used to it, I think I will love it.

Do you see the correlation?

I’m getting ready for this new road in my life, but meanwhile, I’m savoring the lessons I’ve gleaned on the old one. I’ve learned to slow down and take my time, to give others the benefit of the doubt, to trust that the road ahead will get me across to the other side. I will take those lessons with me when the new way opens up.

When my anxiety starts to kick in, God reminds me that whatever path I’m on, He will be with me. In Psalm 139:5 I read:

“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” (NIV)

This translation from ‘The Message’ opens it up more:

I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.

 I love this image—God protecting me from dangers sneaking up behind me and at the same time, clearing the way ahead. He’s “got my back”.

Just as the bridge builders have been preparing the new route, God is right now preparing what comes next for me. Even if there are bumps in the road, I know that He will be there with me. I’m plunging ahead with anticipation!