CHURCH CORNER: Don’t let your past limit your potential

Last week, I had the chance to visit my old college campus, Western Washington University in Bellingham. Have you ever done that – walked through your old campus as a nonstudent? What was it like? Strange? Surreal? Familiar?

I had been on campus before, but this time I was with our three elementary-age children. We parked near the student union building and as we walked into the elevator, my daughter said, “Dad! Dad! Is it OK to be here? Are we allowed to be here?” I told them, “Sure, it’s fine, but you have to act like college students.” Immediately, without any prompting, they all started saying things like, “Bring me a glass of water! Go get me a sandwich! Where’s my pizza?!” The REAL college students on the elevator were not impressed.

We went through the student union building, which of course had been completely remodeled since I was a student (I grieved the loss of the on-campus Taco Bell). We headed past the library and wound up in Red Square, the center of campus. The whole time, I regaled our kids with stories of college life: the classes I took, the clubs I joined, the pranks I played, the girls I kissed (well, wished I had kissed, mostly). The kids were not impressed, either.

Going back to my college campus churns up all kinds of emotions within me. Nostalgia, hilarity, a longing to return to a “simpler” time in my life…and a hard realization that you can never go back. You can never regain those years, that certain time in your life. It is gone for good.

Even if I could go back, even if I registered for winter quarter 2011, things wouldn’t be the same at all. We always thought the older “second career” students were odd and suspicious – I would be one of them now! The dining hall, with its all-you-can-eat cheeseburger and fries buffet – great when you are 19 years old, not so great at 37. And dorm life with a wife and three kids? The very idea terrifies me.

The past is gone, it is history. But that doesn’t mean it is easy to say goodbye; that doesn’t mean it is simple to let go. Our past is filled with joy, sorrow, celebration, grief, loss, fear, and everything in between. It is no easy task to let all of that stuff go.

Do you every feel like your past is holding you back? Maybe you keep trying to return to it. Or you find yourself returning, emotionally or mentally, to specific times and places from your past. Maybe you feel stuck.

Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., says this: “There’s a certain kind of despair that sets in when we believe that things were better back then. When we’re stuck back there. When we’re not fully present. When we’re still holding on to how things were, our arms aren’t free to embrace today.” I love that last thought – when we try to hold on to our past (or feel like it’s holding on to us), we aren’t free to be fully present today.

Do you feel fully present today? Present to your family? Your coworkers? Your friends? Strangers that you meet? I believe God gives us all kinds of opportunities to show grace, compassion, and generosity to others. But if we aren’t living in the present, being present, we might miss out on those chances. What part of your past is holding you back today? And how might you begin to let go of it?

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