"But this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind... I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
- St. Paul, Philippians 3:13
Unless we've reached that semi-blessed age when our memories begin to fail naturally, "forgetting those things which are behind" is easier said than done.
I was in the fifth grade that rainy day when Patty and I were waiting for a ride home from school.
"Oh, I'm going to get all wet," she wailed. "Lucky for you, you don't have your good clothes on."
Stinging words; hard to forget. Just as hard to forget, however, are the words I, too, have flung at another child, stranger, or even a friend. Tough commandment: "forget." Tougher still: "forgive."
Facing a new year, or even a new day, with unresolved past issues must be what Jesus meant by the parable of the wineskins in Luke 5:37: "No one pours new wine into old wineskins, for if he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined."
Unlike our rigid containers today, wineskins were animal hides which, when new, had just enough elasticity to accommodate the natural tendency of new wine to swell. Pouring new wine into old, already stretched skins, like boiling an egg in the microwave today, was a recipe for disaster. Old, settled wine could be stored in old skins, but new wine needed the flexibility of a supple, new skin.
Filling a new year with old hurts and less-than-happy memories works the same way. No room for compromise, no time to enjoy the new, just a continual mess to clean up when tempers erupt and a new day is ruined. Forgiveness, on the other hand - toward ourselves as well as others - is like those new wineskins. It has elasticity, too, making room for swelling emotions, and negotiations when anger subsides.
Marriage or any relationship in which both partners promise to meet each other halfway, someone has said, is another recipe for disaster. Picture a small circle, 2-3 feet across, and call it the 50-yard line. Then picture two people starting from opposite end zones, walking toward each other, and stopping just inside the circle.
Suppose there has been a burning issue between them and the only place to resolve it is in that tiny circle. Not much room for negotiation there. How much better to draw the circle bigger, and give the problem more than a slim, 50-50 chance to air, dissipate, and retreat.
Among the yellowed inspirational messages covering my refrigerator are these favorites:
"Make the most of that which comes, and the least of that which goes"; and, "Be a sundial; mark only the hours that shine."
Letting go of the bad things, like marking those shining hours, may be the most difficult New Year's resolution we can make. Unlike the wineskins, we humans don't enter the world with that "just enough elasticity." We have to cultivate it, bury the hurts, give ourselves and the other person room enough to aerate the problems and let them go.
But when we do forgive, author Lewis Smedes writes, "we come as close as any human being can to the divine act of creation, for we create a new beginning out of past pain, and we heal the hurt we may never have deserved or meant to cause."
"Forgetting those things which are behind," St. Paul said, is only the beginning. We are also to "press toward the high calling of God...." Fortunately, the Apostle doesn't leave us with only the command. A few verses later he also shows us how to observe it:
"...Whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.)
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