Prisoners of Our Past

I put the phone back on its holder with a mixture of emotions ranging from irritation to condescension. I had been talking to a woman who, although in her seventies, regarded her failures and general unhappiness as the product of her childhood. She is not alone, for it seems that many people blame their parents, or childhood circumstances, for their current woes. I just don’t get it!

I understand that trauma, neglect, and abuse of any kind can leave emotional scar tissue, and that even late in life these negative legacies can trigger defense mechanisms in us. This I get. I also understand that sometimes people need to recognise the childhood causes of their reactions and some also need counselling or therapy to help them cope. What I don’t get is why anyone should believe that they are a prisoner of their past. Yet many people have bought into this strange concept and whole counselling practices have arisen to heal past hurts.

Parents are the obvious targets of these inner healing practices. Now I am a parent, and I realise just how many mistakes I made in raising my two children. There was no ‘How to be a perfect parent’ book available, and even if there was it would probably have been more wrong than right. Child-raising is a grand yet guilt-inducing process where one or more parents stumble through decades of trial and error, success and failure, joy and despair. However, this I know, that the vast majority of parents do the very best they can for their children. Sometimes we make monumental mistakes but mostly they are honest mistakes, made because of ignorance and not malice.

If these mistakes leave emotional scars on our children then the best we can do is to apologise, make right wherever possible, and learn to do better next time.

When I look back on my childhood, I realise that there were some events that indeed left me with emotional baggage, and I concede that my parents often played a role in these events. Yet I don’t blame them, because I know they were doing the best they knew how at the time. I also realise that for every unintended wrong they did me there were ten intended blessings that they imparted. My health, education, interests, and talents were all part of the good that they did me. For 17 years of my life I freeloaded off them, gave them problems, made unreasonable demands and seldom even thought to thank them. And now as a mature adult I should blame them for my deficiencies?! I think not!

The lady I had been speaking to on the telephone is not a Christian but even so it irritates and saddens me that she should blame her parents for her less than satisfactory adult life. She had no trauma inflicted on her, no abuse, and no physical deprivation. All she can claim is a feeling of not being loved enough, and that, she says, has caused her to be unfulfilled and unsuccessful. Give me a break! For those of us who are born again of the Spirit, there is even less reason to be prisoners of our past. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). We who know Jesus as saviour have been made new – we have a new self, created to be like God!

Yet, despite this glorious truth, thousands of Christians throng the sanctuary areas of countless churches every Sunday seeking ministry for some or other childhood hurt. During the week, thousands more take up lifetimes of pastoral attention and emotional energy as they seek counselling and inner healing.

For every one who really does need help there are a hundred who need rather to break out of the shackles of the past and walk thankfully and freely in the glorious reality of life in and with Christ Jesus.

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