Week 5: Escaping the Prisons of Our Past

Week 5: Escaping the Prisons of Our Past

I’ve spent three decades as a follower of Jesus, but on days of never-ending pain, I somehow forget to cling to my Savior. Instead, I cling to my former glory like one of those sad former high school athletes who can’t fathom getting rid of her trophies.

Sometimes affairs aren’t with other people. Sometimes they occur with the fantasy version of oneself: The Girl Without Pain. The Girl from Before. I wonder for probably the thousandth time where she’d be now.

Haven’t we all struggled with some version of a former-glory lament? For anyone walking through seasons of difficulty, particularly when that difficulty seems like it will never end, an inevitable part of the process is wondering about the what-ifs or the if-onlys.

In my ministry with women in overcoming shame and “not-enoughness,” I’ve discovered that the healing process always involves a proactive journey of grief. The hurt little girl inside of each woman—her needs, her pain, the sadness in her heart—deserves to be voiced, honored, and lamented. A process of intentional grief helps us escape the prison of our pasts.

Similarly, in order to move through our pain, we need to create space to grieve our disrupted futures. In other words, we need to lament our what-could-have-beens. I know this may sound weird. But it’s perfectly legitimate, healthy even, to wonder, If this thing hadn’t happened, how might things look now? True lament grieves for past pain and for alternate versions of the future. Because our what-might-have-beens are very real losses.

Some what-might-have-been questions look like this:

How might our relationship have turned out differently out if this conflict never occurred?

If she was still here, how would my daughter have dressed up for Halloween? What costume would she have worn?

How would my mom have responded if she could see me now?

How would my husband have pitched in this Christmas?

Had I tried this medical advice instead of the other, how might have things turned out?

The Lord crafted you with wonder in the secret place, his secret place (Psalm 139). And therefore, God stays especially sensitive to the secret longings in your heart. So pour out your what-could-have-beens to him. God wants to bind up the wounds of your what-ifs, so that you can experience the joy of his presence—in your present moment.

A Reflection:

1. In your comparisons to your “former glory” self, what do you mourn the most? What part of you that is no longer true do you miss?

2. As you reflect on your life before your specific grief or loss, what are some alternate versions of the future you need to lament? In other words, besides the actual pain itself, which “what-might-have-been” questions still linger?

3. How are you at sharing the longings of what was and what could have been with the Lord? If you haven’t already, tell him those griefs honestly.

A Prayer:

Lord, in those places where my life is divided into “before” and “after,” help me to share with you the ways in which I long for who I was or how things were. Let me clearly begin to see the yearnings in my heart for all the alternate versions of my story that are no longer an option here and teach me to bring those to your throne. Amen.

A Practice: Breath Prayer

In the places in which there is no solution, no resolve and no going back to the way things were, it can be easy to allow that longing to consume and overwhelm our spirit. The pain can be palatable as we feel our achy heart throb over that which will never be. In those moments in which circumstances cannot change, we can learn to calm our hearts and minds through the simplicity of a breath prayer. The practice is easy. Begin with several big, full breaths, breathing in and out slowly. Then, as you begin to continue filling your lungs and releasing it gently, say a simple word or phrase on each inhale and exhale. You could break up the Hebrew name for God, Yah (inhale) weh (exhale) or a simple prayer such as Lord (inhale), have mercy (exhale). Whatever you choose to pray, let the slow drawing in and out of your breath wash the peace of God over you in your sorrows of all that has been lost.

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