It’s Narcissist Friday!
Last week I wrote about disconnecting the wires of fear and guilt and shame from certain events and decisions of your past. Why is that so hard?
The physical body is controlled by signals through nerves. When there is a pain or an itch, the brain focuses on it almost to the point of distraction from everything else. What goes through your mind as a hornet is stinging you? Nothing except the pain!
To some extent, that’s how we were made. Pain gets attention so we can focus on whatever is harming us. I have often suggested that we don’t want to learn that our hand is on the stove burner by the smell. Pain has a purpose in our lives, a very good purpose. It might seem odd, but pain is there to protect us.
The problem we often experience is that even our physical bodies are broken by sin. They don’t work the way they should. It seems to me that pain should stop when its work is done. In other words, if I notice a paper cut on my knuckle and treat it with antiseptic and bandage it so that it isn’t exposed to more that could infect it, then the pain should stop. But it doesn’t. A little paper cut can demand my attention for a long time.
Unless I am doing something that stimulates me. Right? You can forget all about that paper cut at certain times and doing certain things. Then, when you relax, the pain comes back. What’s going on?
I would suggest that part of our brokenness is that we become fascinated with our pain. Mom told us not to scratch an itch and not to pick at scabs. But that’s hard. They seem to demand our attention.
And, sadly, so do those memories from the past. Those embarrassing moments from so long ago. Those discouraging words and cruel acts. We can almost quote verbatim something mean said to us from forty years ago, even when we can’t remember a conversation an hour old. Those memories get stuck in our heads and replayed over and over until they become part of who we are.
And that’s the error: the past is not who we are! Those memories are of events and decisions and actions that are gone forever. Like the danger represented by the pain is long gone, those memories should have faded away.
Now, I understand that there is a reason for continued pain and bad memories. We don’t want to do those things again. Pain drives home the negative consequence of an action so we will not want to repeat it. A painful memory is a loud caution against making the same stupid decision. But that’s all of it. There is no reason for us to focus on those pains.
Nor are we identified by those bad decisions. You are not “the one who __”. You have been washed, and that sin is gone. The foolish decision or mistake or whatever is no longer attached to you. Others may not understand that, but you should—because God does. He does not see that sin when He looks at you.
The flesh, the way we learned to live apart from God, is fundamentally practical. You can read about the flesh in other posts here. It learns by the most basic cause and effect process. And it assigns categories and labels to make sense of life.
So, the flesh has decided that the reason life is difficult is because of X, or a series of Xs, that happened in the past. The reason you make a mistake is because you are stupid, based on the mistakes you made in the past. You don’t need others to tell you that because your flesh already tells you that. Each time you call yourself stupid, or fat, or lazy, or jinxed, or unlovable—you reinforce that judgment of your flesh.
But listen: when you make the decision not to pick at the scab, it can continue to do its healing work. When you are reminded of your bad decision and decide not to feel guilty, you begin a healing process that brings freedom. Acknowledge the cause of the pain and move forward.
Moving forward in life is just another way of saying, “Follow Jesus.” He does not dwell on our past. He does not focus on what might have been. He looks toward a bright future and a good path for us. Look to Him every time that old urge comes up to focus on the pain. Thank Him for the healing He is working in you. Then move forward with Him.