Cleaning the house inevitably unearths forgotten treasures and faded memories. Last night while straightening up one room I ran across some files set aside for a purpose long since expired. In the midst of these files were letters, one of which was from a past member, taking issue with my leadership and actions at the time. Reading it again brought back the memories of a difficult era in my ministry, one that was deeply formative, yet also quite filled with stress. The date of the letter goes back 14 years, so the immediate issues are now irrelevant. I was in my mid-30's, the senior/administrative pastor of a 1,600 member parish, trying to juggle family, church, and personal life. Mistakes were made, as they always are by sinful people, and I was initially reminded that while our self-protective memories may shield us from the pain of past regrets, revisiting those times is sometimes healthy. It is a careful dance between past and present. Too much obsession with what came before and our lives crawl into dark corners to hide. Too much amnesia about that past and we may begin to believe distorted images of our lives and abilities and human tendencies to fail. We need balance. In a time of neo-power-of-positive-thinking through such gurus as Joel Osteen, we are told to move forward with unbounded hope and enthusiasm. Leave that past behind. Forget the mistakes. You are a new person and this is a new day. To some degree that is true. But what about sin? If we forget this we will inevitably fall into the very same traps that complicated us in the past. We can learn from mistakes. And one of those lessons is to realize our own limitations and weaknesses. We never move from a kneeling position under the cross.
Might I do things differently than I did 14 years ago? Sure. But that was then and the past cannot be corrected or amended. Better to take the lessons into the present and keep learning.