Your Past Does Not Define You (but Neither Does it Ignore You)
Understanding and owning our past can help us live the kind of life we desire
Hey there, Substack Pack (it’s like a wolf pack, but digital… and human)!
It’s been a minute since I’ve had a chance to write some stuff. Many of you might’ve received my recent update sharing why that is, but if you missed it you can check that out here.
Today I just want to share two things with you.
First, about how reading the Gospel of Matthew’s opening genealogy of Jesus got me thinking about the path of well-being.
Second, I did this thing on Friday, and tomorrow on The Alter I want to talk about it.
Let’s get in to it.
OWNING OUR PAST SO WE CAN TAKE OWNERSHIP OF OUR FUTURE
My understanding (as well as personal experience) is that the more we work to understand our past, the better the chances are that we will become the kinds of people we want to become, and live the kind of life we seek.
You see, all of us have wounds from our past.
More specifically, wounds from our childhood.
This is true even in the most loving, caring, nurturing homes. Because even then, in the most ideal contexts, there is simply no way a parent (or parents) can meet all the needs of their child all the time. Plus, there’s way too many other variables, possibilities for which we might experience wounding and/or needs not being met: family dynamics and relationships, school situations, larger cultural issues, physical health, and so on.
Furthermore, for many of us the wounding is traumatic. And rarely (I would submit) does our childhood trauma get dealt with in any sort of healing way.
As a result, excepting those who’ve done the hard work of healing from their childhood trauma, we are all walking around a bit (or a lot) wounded.
I envision our childhood wounds like the rudder of the ship, that small flap of metal on the back of the boat responsible for steering the entire thing. It is entirely out of sight (and out of mind) and, relatively speaking, incredibly small. Yet it contains the capacity to turn a massive ship. If we are not aware of our rudder, if we are not conscious about its turnings and movings, we’ll wake up one day shocked at the giant iceberg we just crashed in to.
What the… Last we saw we were heading toward that beautiful tropical island over there! But now? Shipwrecked, scared, and drowning! #midlifecrisisanyone
All of this came to mind the other day while reading the opening of Matthew where the author uses no small amount of scroll to list the genealogy of Jesus back to David and on through to Abraham. While it’s tempting to skim past lists like this (booooring), benefit can be found when scratching just below the surface.
I was particularly moved by some of the names Matthew chose to include. Names that were, for example, not Jewish, not particularly impressive on the morality scale, and/or not male (which was unusual for ancient genealogy lists).
Almost as though the author was saying, “Here’s the account of Jesus, who comes from a long line of every kind of human you can imagine. So as you read on, and as you discover that Jesus is the one we’ve been waiting for, may you see him as someone who contains all the parts of what it means to be human. All the mess, all the wrinkles, all the shapes and sizes.”
Reflecting upon this list of names, and how it doesn’t shy from the mistakes and the embarrassing parts of the past, I was reminded about this truth that we all carry with us wounds, failures, and shame from the past.
And I believe we get to decide what kind of story we tell with our lives.
We could tell a version of our past that glosses over the ugly parts. Where we either don’t name them because we don’t know them, or we know them yet refuse to name them.
Or, conversely, we could tell a version of our past that overly focuses on the failure and the trauma. Where we slip in to the comfy role of victim and stay there. They become not just a story in our life, but the story.
Or—and this, I suspect, is the path God calls us to—we can tell a version of our past that accurately recounts our struggles (as well as our triumphs!), honestly acknowledges our failures (plus sharing of the lessons learned!), and courageously names our trauma (and if/how we’ve healed!).
I pray we sit with this idea that seeking an understanding of our past is directly linked to the success of our efforts to live the life we desire.
May we seek to see and name and know the rudders that unconsciously guide us, so that we might exert some degree of control at the helm (avoiding future icebergs).
May we embrace our past mistakes and failures, knowing that our past does not define us. And may we also seek to heal from the wounding of our traumas, for neither does the past ignore us.
I pray you feel empowered to shape your life, and with it tell a story that moves toward greater and truer wholeness.
(This is a brief excerpt from a message I gave at Sojourn Grace last Sunday. You can watch that here.)
TODAY ON THE ALTER
On Friday I joined evangelical apologist Sean McDowell (son of Josh McDowell, who authored that well worn book many of us knew, Evidence that Demands a Verdict) for another live YouTube conversation in which we sought, first and foremost, to model respectful and charitable disagreement.
He invited me back on to discuss the topic of LGBTQ relationships (which, to be fair, is a topic that neither of us knows anything about on an experiential level). As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, one of the ways I try and steward my privilege well is to show up to these spaces and advocate for others, others who shouldn’t have to sit in spaces where their identity as Beloved Child of God is in question.
In no way do I think I’m the best representative for this work, and in no way do I believe this is the only (or best) way that this sort of work should be done, but for better or worse it has been my calling for the past decade and I continue to show up as best I can, insisting that God loves us just as we are, insisting that the Christian church has been wrong in its condemnation of queer people, and insisting that LGBTQ individuals can (and do!) Experience the fullness of God’s love when they are in a same-sex relationship.
Today on my live show, The Alter, I want to share a few clips from my conversation with Sean. Especially on a few points where I feel I did a poor job of communicating, or where I feel like Sean wasn’t tracking with my line of thought (which, again, could’ve just been me poorly saying it).
Plus, I want to address a few of the criticisms and push-backs that tend to show up regularly in the comment sections. 😬
So I invite you to join me later today, 2pm PST, as I go live from my brand new studio for the first time!
See you then!
Welcome back to the digital world! Funny thing was the day you had sent out your update was the same day I thought to myself "Hmm... I wonder what happened to Colby?". Then your update hit my inbox and I was like "Ohhh..."
I love that you talked about how all of us carry trauma and hurts around everyday. It feels relevant to me since I'm currently working with my therapist to heal those wounds and traumas.
I particularly like this section you wrote:
"Or—and this, I suspect, is the path God calls us to—we can tell a version of our past that accurately recounts our struggles (as well as our triumphs!), honestly acknowledges our failures (plus sharing of the lessons learned!), and courageously names our trauma (and if/how we’ve healed!)."
I'd like to think that with the work I'm doing with my therapist, that I am recounting my past, acknowledging my failures and naming my traumas. Healing from these wounds has helped me be more empathetic towards others who may also be carrying similar wounds.
Thank you, Colby, for your message on Sunday and for this. I don't think it will surprise you that once again this was what I needed to hear last Sunday. I was already working on a poem to address some of my past childhood trauma and how it has manifested in my body. Your message helped me straighten my "rudder" for my end goal of finding a way toward healing.
I have spent seasons in each of the areas you mention, glossing over my trauma, then overly focusing on my trauma, and in many areas being able to tell the story of my trauma with the triumphs and healing, balanced and on the right course. This seems to be the formula for when I am triggered. I dive into denial, then soak in despair until I am ready to do the work to walk through the sludge and find healing and renewal.
I have noticed over this past few years, after coming to SOJO and committing to self-love and embracing that the love of God lives in me unconditionally that this "formula for healing" is not really getting easier per se but that I spend less time unaware of where I am at, I am more uncomfortable remaining in the denial and despair, more motivated to love myself through the journey and to reach for the love of the divine partner within me. That simple knowledge that my tears, and pain are not felt alone is pivotal in my healing. I have no doubt I will still hit an iceberg along the way but we all need a wake-up call occasionally, and I also have no doubt I can course correct again. From one beloved child of God to another. Thanks.