Today’s post comes from a deeply personal place and has been in development for weeks. I hope it will help anyone who is grappling with past disappointments, loss and pain. It is by no means the complete answer to life's problems, but it might help you unpick some fundamental assumptions that might be holding you back.
Building a future.
When you’re recovering from events that have sliced the fabric of your life, there's a tendency to build a future in spite of what you’ve been through. Subconsciously, you try to prove to yourself, to life and to the world that you too can ‘make it’. That despite it all, still, you rise.
On one hand, that’s a brave and courageous position, but reflecting on how this reaction can affect your mental and emotional health, I've started to question just how helpful it really is.
If you frame your future in the context of past pain and loss, it snowballs into a battle against yourself and your inner demons. Some days, that battle looks like motivation that soon burns you out, and other days it evolves into anxiety, stress and undue pressure. And that’s when things get difficult.
It leads to overworking, withdrawing, doing nothing, impatience and/or an underlying fear that things will fall apart at any second. Life becomes a draining balancing act where you try (and of course, fail) to control everything around you. Something tells us that if we just tick these boxes, if we just try and push hard enough, we’ll be protected from that stomach-searing pain ever again.
I’m no longer convinced that this how we're meant to live. There must be a way out.
It started with a song.
If you don't know where you've come from, you don't know where you're going.
In April, the There is More album came out. I was driving across town and heard ‘New Wine’. Halfway through, had to stop the car, catch my breath and gather my thoughts.
I came here with nothing,
But all You have given me,
Jesus, bring new wine out of me - New Wine
‘I came here with nothing’ sank heavy into my heart.
No matter what environment you were born into, who you are at your core - your soul and spirit, came to the earth with nothing. We all started from zero, vulnerable and innocent. Many of us have probably heard this at some point in life, but personally, it never held any relevance for me.
I’m just dust without your breath
I’m just clay without your kiss
I’m just skin and bone, without your wind in my lungs - Love Song.
So when I was reminded of this truth, I was filled with a strong sense of gratitude. When you recognise that you started with from zero, every opportunity, every good memory and every happy coincidence begins to carry value of epic proportions. Somehow, through minimal effort of your own, you’ve managed to get here. And that means something, no matter how much we think is missing. When you are filled with gratitude, there's less space for fear.
But this is more than just a lesson in gratitude.
The possibilities are endless
When you recognise that you started with nothing, and so much has come by time and chance, you learn that the possibilities of the future are endless.
Inhale the future, exhale the past.
When I learned this, I also saw that the things I once treasured are simply additive [something in small quantities to improve] to my life, they do not make my identity. Therefore, losing them, while painful, doesn't need to send me spiralling into a crisis of self, questioning the value of my existence... because what endures (my true self, my soul, my spirit is still intact).
How many of us can truly say we live with this perspective?
Not living with this perspective is where so much of our enduring pains comes from. This is why we desperately cling to the memory of what was lost: because we have held what was supposed to be additive, as an intrinsic part of who we are.
Even when we feel like we have 'let go', it shows up in the overworking, worry and insecurity, as I mentioned earlier. We have let those memories, those relationships, those things that we lost become part of the fabric of our identity and our value as a human being. And because of this, losing them and reliving that loss is like dying a thousand deaths.
So, the underlying question is an age-old one: who am I, really?
Perhaps all these additive things don’t make the (wo)man. Maybe our identity cannot not be found in what’s temporary, but in what endures.
We view our slight, short-lived troubles in the light of eternity.
We see our difficulties as the substance that produces for us an eternal, weighty glory far beyond all comparison, because we don’t focus our attention on what is seen but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but the unseen realm is eternal. - 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
An opportunity to hope and dream again
So that was dealing with the past: peeling away what was lost, and what we currently have from our core identity.
But what about the present and future?
Where there is new wine
There is new power
There is new freedom
And the kingdom is here
I lay down my old flames
To carry Your new fire today
The song hinges on the concept of ‘new wine’ which we see in the Bible. Jesus says:
And who would pour fresh, new wine into an old wineskin? Eventually the wine will ferment and make the wineskin burst, losing everything—the wine is spilled and the wineskin ruined. Instead, new wine is always poured into a new wineskin so that both are preserved - Matthew 9:17 (TPT)
While this metaphor applies to so much of life, it also helps guides us in how we should view the present and future. New wine and new wineskins represent a completely new beginning.
Instead of seeing a life of loss as a dry and empty desert, maybe the void left creates space for us to dream again - no strings attached. As I mentioned, the possibilities are now endless. Just like when you first arrived on earth, you begin again with nothing, poised for everything to be added onto you.
Let me make this clear: A single grain of wheat will never be more than a single grain of wheat unless it drops into the ground and dies. Because then it sprouts and produces a great harvest of wheat—all because one grain died. - John 12:24
From the mustard seed to Jesus ultimately dying and being resurrected, the pain of transition is followed by the manifestation of a promise. Jesus came so that we may a new life, not a patchwork of desperate attempts to piece back together broken fragments of distant memories.
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view.[...] This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun - 2 Corinthians 5:16-18
Life is full of transitions. And those transitions create space for what’s new and different. A new opportunity dream, hope and expect all over again. And that expectation is innocent, it's not tainted by the pain of the past, it is expectant for God to fill the gaps all over again.
Let me be clear, I am not dismissing the pain or the importance of the past.
They are important things that mature, stretch and shape us. But I am learning this simple truth: I do not have to carry the heavy load of past pain into my plans and expectations of the future. I will not let them become so deeply knitted into my identity that they suffocate my life with anxiety, fear or trying to ‘prove’ myself.
I don’t depend on my own strength to accomplish this; however I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead. - Philippians 3:13 (TPT)
I can no longer live as if the low-lying black cloud has power over my life. If I live that way, then why did Jesus come and why did he die?
I learned that you don't need to claw back what was lost, all you need to do is look forward.
Thank you for taking the time to read this very personal blog post. I would highly recommend seeing a professional if you're dealing with dramatic, deep losses - there's no shame in that at all.
I'd love to know your thoughts and learn more about experiences, so please leave a comment below. Please share this with anyone you think it could help - we're in this together!