We are afraid, not because we forget, but because we cannot forget.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said
to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Mark 4
I was racking my brains trying to come up with a good illustration for my church this week as I was teaching about Jesus calming the storm as the disciples feared for their lives on the Sea of Galilee. I wanted to make the point that we need to let go of the past even if it does not want to let go of us, but most of my experiences pale in light of what I know so many in my church, and what many of you reading this have experienced. Abuse, manipulations, neglect, rape and incest—betrayals by people you love, people who were supposed to protect you or at least love and cherish you— those are by far the worst, especially if there is a sexual component
because then the whole being is affected, body, mind and soul.
The sexual betrayals outstrip them all but they can be overcome as well by the same principle of letting the dead bury the dead (As I talked about last week) and recognizing that you are in a safe place with Jesus, so all of this is relevant no matter what haunts you.
I have told my church many stories of my childhood in the past, and have recounted many in my books as well, so I wanted to look in another direction. There are many things and many people that can call from our pasts and can destroy our present if we allow them to; stealing our peace, stealing our joy, our faith.
It usually takes time to really damage someone’s heart and it can be cumulative. There are the —drip, drip, drip—manipulators that over the long term destroy your soul, your self-worth, your confidence, while at the same time convincing you that you cannot live without them, that you owe them. Then I remembered my former employer—
You can’t come back
Years ago I worked in a welding shop. I started there as a young man of 18 and spent twelve years there. It was a family operation, I was hired by the father and ended up working with and ultimately for his two sons. A very neurotic family, I came to discover, who thought they were superior to most everyone else, especially the oldest Son whom I would end up working for exclusively after he drove his meeker brother to quit.
Anyway, I stuck it out for several years, it was the 80’s and you were lucky to have a job in Billings at the time, and I was young and naïve. I liked the work but it was a real tough place to work. I could tell you story after story and I have told you a few in the past but one that comes to mind that kind of sums up my experience happened on a cold winter day towards the end of my tenure there.
The shop was heated with overhead gas furnaces but, to save money, they just set the thermostats above freezing so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. We had a coal burning stove that we primarily used to heat the place during the day. The problem is, the boss really resented the time we would spend tending the stove to keep it going and he didn’t want to spend much money on coal either.
Every fall he would send one of us to the coal mine in the town of Round Up, with the old 4-yard dump truck we had, to get a load of coal. $20 dollars’ worth, that was our yearly coal allotment. I know this sounds like a story I stole from A Christmas Carol but I swear it’s true. “Marley, you ingrate, don’t you dare burn more than one lump of coal today! ‘Yes Mr. Scrooge.’”
Anyway, we had some really cold winters in the 80’s and trying to work steel all day was tough when your fingers were frozen and you were always on the verge of hypothermia. One day I was stoking the fire and the boss came into the shop from his nice warm office as I was closing the door to the stove and he stormed over and started berating me for wasting time.
Even though I had been brow beat there for years I still wasn’t always shy about defending myself, something which did not endear me to him much but he depended on me to keep the shop running well so he put up with it. It was hard to keep help when you treated people like they were all idiots and demanded they work massive overtime as well.
Anyway, as I was telling him we couldn’t work if we were all frozen and it only took a minute to throw in another lump of coal, he suddenly reached out and grabbed the collar of my welding leathers and proceeded to yell in my face how he was sick of arguing with me. He was a big dude, actually taller that I am, but honestly, the main thing that was running through my mind was, I should deck him right now—but his other arm was in a sling because he had just had hand surgery so I really didn’t want to go there, and with a wounded hand I knew he couldn’t hit me either.
As soon as he had grabbed me I had instantly reacted by grabbing the wrist of the hand he was holding me with and put an iron worker death grip on it. I was in shock and I’m sure his hand was probably falling asleep but there we stood nose to nose as he finished his rant and I just glared at him.
He let go and left and I went back to work. I don’t think I have ever been so angry. He had been pushing my buttons for years; he delighted in it. But this was over the top. He made a feeble attempt an hour or so later to smooth things over but I was still too angry to care and told him as much.
That was the beginning of the end for me. I started looking for another job. I was getting worried that this place was destroying my soul. I had spent a childhood listening to stepfathers belittle and humiliate me and now I was putting up with it at work.
Long story short, I got a job at Fisher Construction through connections with my new brother in law Charlie and have been grateful to have a job where I am respected and appreciated ever since. I’ll never forget when I told my former boss I was leaving he said; “Okay, but you have to understand that once you leave here you can never come back.”
Boy does that sound like a text book manipulation tactic or what. That’s something a father says to a child, an abusive husband says to a wife, a boyfriend, girlfriend— not an employer— but that’s the way he thought. I mean; I should be see how lucky I am to be there and if I am so foolish as to leave this wonderful place I can never come crawling back.
In my Dreams
The day I walked out the door for the last time was a feeling of freedom and relief I will never forget. But you know what? He was wrong. I have gone back, over and over and over again, in my dreams—nightmares where I am back working there and I don’t want to be there but I cannot leave. It’s like the attack of the zombies, you bury them and say goodbye but they just keep crawling out and coming after you.
But keep burying the dead— leave them behind. I know God got me out of there and he has blessed me with so much, and over the years, and in him, I have renewed the self-esteem the dead spent so much time and effort taking away and I have even gone beyond that and found a peace and security in the Lord whom I know loves me and made me unique, giving me gifts and abilities to do things I love and am passionate about.
He has blessed me beyond anything I deserve and I now know that I am a treasure in his sight and he has surrounded me with people who love me and even appreciate me. He has done so much more than just restore, he has gone way beyond that and taught me how to be the person he created me to be, not the person the voices of the past insisted I was.
It takes time, it takes recognizing who you are in the boat with and that you are now in a safe place. Even in the midst of a storm, if you are with Jesus you are in the safest place you have even been.
I still dream about that shop once in a while but the dreams have changed. I am no longer imprisoned there, I’m just kind of there helping them out of a tough spot and I can leave anytime I want. I have buried the dead but I have also forgiven them.
We can never forget, but we, through the power of Christ, can be free. Keep praying, keep trusting, stay in the boat and keep your eyes on Jesus. God is a God of miracles and can change things in an instant but real long lasting healing takes time, not because you are still bleeding— but because the enduring, nightmare ending, heart healing that prevents those zombies from the past from catching up to you to bring on the heart pain—much of that healing comes from the redemption of your past, not forgetting your past but letting Jesus redeem it, just as he redeemed you.
We do that by using what the enemy intended for harm for the glory of God.
“Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Jesus would say to you now; Fear not for I am with you.