My friend Eileen wrote a well-stated response to my last post, about why it can be so hard to look back on our lives and create a Life Map: Revisiting the sometimes damaging choices others have inflicted on us, and even the poor choices we have made ourselves, can be genuinely painful. I suspect this is true no matter who we are or what subculture we find ourselves a part of, but I sort of wonder if there is another dynamic in certain pockets of the Christian church.
I’ve wondered this before, but I’m doing so even more now because, while I sensed deep panic from some of my Christian friends when they heard about life-mapping, my friends who do not yet describe themselves as Christians seemed almost eager to try it–and these are not people who have rose-colored pasts to look back on, either. “After reading the description,” said one. “I figured it would ask some tough questions, which intrigued me more about it.”
“I’ve accepted that trauma and that damage is part of me now and isn’t going away…” she went on. “That shit is going to affect me for the rest of my life. I know that and have accepted it. Triggers come out of nowhere.”
What I hear from many Christians sounds something like, “The past is past. It’s finished and done with. I’m a new creation and none of that is a part of me anymore.”
Isn’t there something better than either approach? Isn’t there some way that the hope we Christians have–that Jesus really can and does “forgive all our sins and heal all our diseases” (where “diseases” is more than simply medical)–can actually come true? Where we can face our darkness without fear, accept these parts of our past as part of our formation, and no longer be defined by them because Jesus gives us a new identity?
I’m quite sure that the first step into the Way, which is Jesus, instantly reconciles us to God. But the Way is still a Way–we still have to walk. Everything about creation and our ongoing existence is about process. God made us that way. Why would He overthrow His own idea and not include process in our spiritual formation? If God is so great, and can take something horrific like the Crucifixion and use it to save the world, why would He transform us and not do so through the events that formed us?
Even birth (even being born again) is a process. Gestation/formation was happening even before the birth. Not every womb is safe–sometimes because of conditions outside of the mother’s control, and sometimes because of conditions fully within it. Some of our spiritual wombs may have been, metaphorically speaking, the equivalent of a crack addict’s.
Rebirth by God’s Spirit is mysterious and seems to happen in an instant. It sets in motion a miraculous process which, if we allow it the time, will grow us up into increasingly restored reflections of God in the world. But the Spirit was also at work before that decisive moment, and I believe part of the miracle that God sets in motion after it is only able to occur when we face where we’ve been and discover the places that God was already there, too.
(Fellow blogger, The Wannabe Saint, recently blogged quite powerfully about something similar. Or maybe it’s the same thing. I invite you to check out his post, too.)