Here’s an article I wrote for the January edition of Book Fun Magazine, hopefully it encourages you as the New Year begins.
Ready or not 2018 is here. Perhaps you were able to take some time after Christmas to reflect on the year that was about to pass. Perhaps, as 2018 is still very young, you are still reflecting on what transpired last year and what is, or what you would like, to come this year. As I’ve written before there is really nothing special about the turn from December 31st to January 1st. We turn the calendar eleven other times during the year from one last day to a new first day without any fanfare.
But yet there is something special about this turning of the calendar. This is a time to reflect. It is a time to take stock of where we have been and where we think we are going. As the year was winding down and we were spending time with family three things continued to come up in our conversations that I want to write to you about as we start the New Year.
Learn From Your Mistakes and Move On
We all have made mistakes. Some of us more than others perhaps and some mistakes are more serious than others to be sure. But nonetheless our pasts are littered with mistakes. My past contains numerous mistakes and bad choices that don’t need to be mentioned in detail here to make the point. There were careless words spoken that can’t be unspoken. There were emotional overreactions that can’t be undone. There were unwise decisions choices that can’t be remade.
Sometimes the consequences of our mistakes are fairly light and short term. Other times the consequences last a lifetime and nothing can be done to reverse them. In these cases the pain never completely goes away. There are always reminders, especially when others are affected seriously by those mistakes.
The Apostle Paul was a man who knew a little something about mistakes and consequences. Prior to his becoming a follower of Jesus on the road to Damascus he was a violent persecutor of Christians. In a letter he wrote to the Galatian church he recounts about how he locked some of them up in prison and how he supported the killing of others who followed Jesus. In Acts Chapter 7 he stood by and guarded the robes of those stoning Stephen to death. Paul even pursued people to other cities to punish them. You can read all of this for yourself in Acts 26:9-12 and Galatians1:13.
Paul began as an angry, violent, murderous persecutor of the early church. He finished as a great teacher, evangelist and church planting missionary. The man who was enraged at people simply because they believed in Jesus later wrote some of the most beautiful words about love ever written in the first letter to the Corinthian church in chapter 13.
How did this happen? First and foremost it happened because of the grace of God according to Paul. The grace of God that was given to him, self described as the least of the saints (see Ephesians 3:7-9), and because of one other thing I think.
Paul learned from his mistakes and moved on. Easier said than done I realize. But Paul must have done it. Along with God’s grace there is no other explanation for the turn around. If Paul did it then I can do it and so can you. The regretful memories of putting people in prison and either murdering them personally or approving of someone else doing the dirty work in his name could not have gone away completely. But because of God’s grace and Paul’s ability to move on he became a servant that the Lord was able to use.
And so can you. Your past does not have to determine your future. Sure, there may be lost opportunities because of past mistakes, but you can still be of use to someone somewhere. God still has a plan for you but you have to learn from your mistakes and move on. You have to accept God’s forgiveness-that’s the easy part. After that you have to forgive yourself and then take action to move on-that’s the hard part. No more feeling sorry for yourself over the mistakes, no more pity parties, no more excuses about how unworthy you feel. If God says you are worthy then you are worthy. Paul learned and applied that to his life. You can too.
Let It Go
It has been said that 10% of life is what happens to us and the other 90% is how we react to what happens to us. We seek to control so many aspects of life and yet the one thing we have the most ability to control is the very thing we fail to control most often and that is our reactions.
In the first section we focused on the mistakes we make and how they can hold us back. Now we are looking at the impact of the mistakes others have made, and our reactions to them, that hold us back. This can be a very, very deep and difficult topic of which I am not certified to plumb the depths of fully.
Not everything that happens can simply be let go of. Notwithstanding those who have suffered tremendously at the hands of others, there are many of us who are suffering needlessly because of minor things. And at a certain point that suffering becomes self afflicted. We hold grudges against people, or companies, or the church, or other institutions because of offenses, which in the whole scheme of things, are really not that important.
Road rage is one example. People are getting killed over minor traffic incidents. Not often thank God, but often enough. Many of us get so mad at what others do on the roads and for what? What does it accomplish?
Someone said that being angry, bitter, and holding grudges is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Even if our hurt is justified holding onto it accomplishes nothing. We have to let things go in order to have a chance at living the abundant life Jesus promised we could have.
Letting go means we have to forgive the other party. Forgiving means that we release them from all liability to us or our loved ones whom they’ve hurt. It does not mean that we have to be friends with that person or that we have to be associated with that organization anymore. It certainly doesn’t mean that we have to trust them either. But we have to let go of the emotions that scream they owe me something, and until they satisfy that debt I will not forgive them.
Stephen forgave those, including Paul, who were stoning him to death. Jesus forgave those who put Him up on the cross. History is filled with examples of people who have learned this secret. We have to forgive others and let things go. Otherwise we are drinking the poison expecting the other person to die.
Not My Department
My sister gets credit for putting this on my radar screen late last year. We were visiting and talking about lots of different things happening around us. On several occasions she simply said that is not my department, meaning it was not for her to be concerned with. And this is a great truth. What other people are doing is not my department as my sister says. It is none of my business.
The boss doesn’t do what I think he or she should do? He didn’t ask my opinion. Not my department. A family member makes bad choices in life? She didn’t ask for my advice. Not my department. The list goes on and on. How much emotional energy do we spend being concerned about what other people are saying, thinking, or doing? How much time do we spend complaining about what other people are saying, thinking, or doing? How does any of this help us?
I don’t know about you but I have a hard enough time handling my own department, why should I be worried about everybody else’s? Why should I let what others are doing drag me down? Once again Paul has some insight into this matter.
In the first letter Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonia he told them to mind their own business (see 4:11). Apparently some didn’t get it right away so Paul had to make mention of this very thing in the second letter he wrote to them (2 Thess. 3:11). The second time he describes those who don’t mind their own business as busybodies. We all know busybodies. Most of us don’t like busybodies. Don’t be a busybody.
The Bible has a lot more to say about these things. Please spend time in the Word, in prayer, and if necessary, with trusted and wise counselors who can help you conquer these three challenges so that 2018 will be your best, most joy filled and productive year ever.