Over the River and Through the Woods (To My Past Self I Go)

thanksgiving tableSo this week a lot of us are going to get into a car or a plane to go across town or across country and go back to the places that built us. We’re going to sit, over turkey and pie, with people who shaped us. We’re going to take our lives back to a past we don’t inhabit anymore. And our present selves will sit with our past selves, and the two will try to get along.

Going back to your places and people can be a little like trying on that old t-shirt from high school. Even if by some miracle it still fits, it looks weird. It’s out of style. That little tag in the neck, which doesn’t even exist anymore in modern shirts, is itchy and so you grab handfuls of the fabric and pull it back over your head, relieved to get it off. But you don’t get rid of it; you tuck it back into its special spot in the bottom of your dresser.

Holidays have a way of reminding us that we are always trying to integrate our past with our present. Whether we had a good childhood or a difficult one, everyone comes to a point where we have to grapple with who we were and decide if that’s who we still want to be. I have now spent many more years away from my childhood than in it, yet the effects were so profound that I sometimes feel my life can be divided into two parts: pre-18 years and post-18. An oversimplification, maybe, but you get the point.

Growing up shy, bookish and serious in a huge family, I learned early that the needs of the group were more important than my individual needs. This trait has come in handy over the years because I generally can get along with anyone. However, I’ve had to learn through hard struggle that I do have a voice and it’s ok to use it. Integrating my past self – the self of cooperation – with my current self – the self of choice and empowerment – is a lifetime work for me.

So sometimes what happens is, just when we do all the hard work of integration into something resembling a balanced whole, we get to go and spend time with people who know our past selves best. Sometimes they don’t let us forget who we were; not necessarily because they want to keep us in a box (although sadly this does happen in some families), but because they simply don’t know us now. One thing I want to do this week, over the turkey and pie, is follow the Golden Rule. I will try to be the person who treats my family members as whole individuals who have their own lives beyond any labels we might have given each other when we were younger. The process of becoming adults should serve to scrub away labels. It shouldn’t matter anymore who’s the most outgoing or most mischievous or most creative. I shouldn’t expect a sibling to act a certain way just because that’s what he did when he was 10. And I think my family will extend me the same courtesy.

This Thanksgiving I want to be grateful for all the ways, good and bad, in which my past shaped me into the person I am. In Philippians 3:13, Paul says he wants to forget his past and reach forward to those things which are ahead, “pressing toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I don’t believe Paul is saying we should forget in the sense that we try to throw out our past (because this would be impossible); rather, we don’t stay in our pasts, but let them teach us and incorporate those lessons into our present selves. Most importantly, we keep changing and growing to press into everything the Lord Jesus has for us.

So on Thursday, sitting with the family over turkey and pie, I will be fully present. I will not hide behind who I was, and I will not be afraid to be who I am now. I will bring the gift of my whole, real self to the table, and it will be enough.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! I’m taking next week off due to the holiday. See you in two weeks!

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2 thoughts on “Over the River and Through the Woods (To My Past Self I Go)

  1. Its true – I don’t know the adult beloved wife, mother, sister, community and church leader, and so many other facets of the person you have grown, gloriously*, to be. I see and hear the echos, but the reality is intertwined with other lives, as it should be. But I do know, better than anyone else, the Daughter. That is my special privilege, and in that knowledge, I am rich.

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