I am a four on the enneagram—which means that if anyone is willing to snuggle up close to an old memory and live in it far longer than they should, it’s me.
Though I think we all do that in some capacity. It’s our nature to want to glance over our shoulder as we start walking into something new. We all think back to that one good time, with that person we cared so much about, in that place that once felt comfortable and secure.
We seem to forget that there is a reason the city is falling and we are fleeing. We forget that the past might just be the thing that turns us to stone if we stare at it too longingly. And yet, it is still so tempting.
I’ve had to remind myself that our memories are flawed. That we have this very human tendency to block out the bad and cling to what we perceived as good. We rewrite the story for ourselves, and sometimes we write a better story than we actually lived. The past is deceiving like that—I think that’s why we are so cautioned against returning to it in the Word.
I have lived within many different stories—some I know that I was never supposed to walk in, some I know were important for that season but are no longer, some that I loved and still hold close. The temptation to go back to these former lives always rises when I feel uncomfortable, when I question where I am going next, when I think that I’ve reached some kind of dead-end, or when I don’t want to persevere in the story I am currently being spoken into.
Because the past can feel familiar. I’ve been there before. I know the expectations, my lines, my place. Even if the part didn’t quite fit me or the people didn’t better me or I know there are other places I need to go, I can still spin them, weave together the right combination of words and emotion and nostalgia to make even the worst of situations sound like somewhere I might still belong.
We have to stop romanticizing old plot lines we’ve long outgrown.
The reality is I didn’t like most of the stories I was once living—that’s why I left them, why God spoke me out of them. God has always been pushing me towards greater things, immeasurably mores that I could never write for myself—and He continues to.
We can’t walk into them more with our faulty hearts and failing memories so focused on the past. We have to learn that the good stories aren’t the ones romanticized, ones that leave out the gory bits and struggle and strife. The best stories, with the best characters, are more honest than that. They remember why they left certain places, the hard lessons learned there, so they can then show up to each new day with their empty hands and say to their perfect Author, “What’s next? I’m going where you lead,” and actually go.
Just recently I was reading in the last half of Joshua, and tucked away between all the names and places I cannot pronounce, Joshua asks the Israelites a question. He says, “How long will you wait before entering into the land that the Lord has given to you? How long till you take possession of it like you believe it is rightfully yours?”
You see, people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. And while God was with them and clearly had purpose for them there, they weren’t supposed to stay wanderers forever. That was only a small part of their story.
Yet when the Lord brought them into the Promised Land and offered those nomads a permanent dwelling place, they hesitated. I bet they started to think the wandering in the wilderness wasn’t all that bad. As fellow human beings, I bet they romanticized the old to delay walking into the new—and Joshua called them out on that. He reminded them that there are were lines to learn, a new story to live, and a present that had the potential to be immeasurably more than their past ever was.
The same is said to us as we stand on the edge of God’s good things, with our necks strained from looking backwards, and ask, “But wait, what happens if I never go back?” And I believe our Author, the perfect storyteller, responds ever so gently to each one of us saying, “You would be leaving behind a life that you were never supposed to stay in, one you’ve outgrown. And that’s okay. Leave it there. Let this romance die—come with Me instead.”
words by Jacqueline Winstead and photo by Hailey Pierce