When does the past become the past?
It’s a question I’ve been pondering most of the day.
I went to the church cafe this morning to get some work done and I had a little conversation with someone about a woman I’d met at church the week before.
It was a lovely conversation, all nice things, and at the end of the conversation there was a comment that I’d come across a number of times.
You should hear about her past
There’s a thing in Christian circles called a testimony. In a sense it’s like a short telling of our lives, how we became a Christian and often a telling of what Christ has done for us.
These testimonies are meant as an encouragement for others, a reminder that God can work through all our lives.
Some time ago I was asked to speak my testimony at a church. I’d just graduated from university and I was starting my life as a textile designer with a calling from God to bring Him into my textile world. Graduating from University had been a big thing for me, and a personal marker where I felt I was no longer the old me, but a new person with a new future, and so I spoke about that as my testimony.
I spoke about my plans and the quilts of hope project, which was still a small idea at the time. I spoke about the future and the hope I could bring to others through the quilts.
After the service a woman came to me and told me she had been disappointed with what I’d said.
Y’see, she didn’t want to hear the good stuff, she wanted to hear about the ‘real’ past.
It’s not that we don’t want to know the good things in people’s lives, it’s just.. the past is…well… Juicy? Different? Bloodthirsty?
But is that the testimony we really want to hear?
I suspect even then, many only want a glossed over Hollywood telling of the past. Maybe add a little humour amongst the darkness, just so it doesn’t get too gloomy.
Maybe they want me to mention working as a prostitute on the streets of Whitechapel and the West End. They want me to talk about almost losing my life to a violent ‘customer’ and how I found Jesus because of something RT Kendall said.
The problem is, for those of us with ‘a past’, as you hear us speak the Hollywood version, we are mentally forced to relive the director’s cut.
You hear me say the word violence, but every time I close my eyes I am feeling the piece of wood coming down on my head again and again. When I talk about the Quilts of Hope, and the damage that can be done by hugging a woman whose been held against their will, I’m speaking not as someone who studied the effects of imprisonment, but as someone who has been held with a fear of never being freed.
One of the people who I owe a great debt to is a guy called Chris, who I once heard talking about our pasts.
He said when we ask forgiveness, Jesus throws our list of sins in the deepest lake and puts a ‘no fishing’ sign up.
God chooses to forget our pasts, he wants us to look forward. He says Don’t look behind you, You’re not going that way!
“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”Hebrews 8:12
When I approach the throne of God he sees me as I am, a quilter, a knitter, a child of His. So why are some people still referred to as someone with ‘a past’?
It happened again a few weeks ago. A woman from church came to me and said one day she’d like to hear my story because she heard it was good.
I gave a short deep laugh, then looked her in the eye and said, “No, you don’t”.
It’s not that I think it’s wrong to tell your story, some people find great strength in hearing that nothing, absolutely NOTHING (including our pasts) can separate us from the love of God.
It’s just that, we are more than our past. It seems ironic to give a sermon on having a hope and a future, then asking someone to give a five minute speech on the past. Wouldn’t you rather hear about my hopes for the future?
I don’t know what the answer is, but all day I kept thinking about the conversation I had this morning. I found myself wondering, how long?
How long before we talk about this lovely, kind and generous woman of incredible strength and instead of reminding us of where she’s been, we wonder about where she’s going?