A few years ago I was reading a book by Fr. Henri Nouwen called “Here and Now: Living in the Spirit,” when I came upon an excerpt in the book that moved me, and also challenged me in my healing. I remember wrestling with how I would ever be able to get to a place where his words would be real to me. At that time in my life when I was reading the passage, I was still very much steeped in shame over choices I made in my first few years of college. I remember thinking, “How will I ever be able to look back on this part of my life in gratitude, when it caused such pain and brokenness?” This was the excerpt:
“When we look back at all that has happened to us, we easily divide our lives into good things to be grateful for and bad things to forget. But with a past thus divided, we cannot move freely into the future. With many things to forget, we can only limp toward the future.
True spiritual gratitude embraces all of our past, the good as well as the bad events, the joyful as well as the sorrowful moments. From the place where we stand, everything that took place brought us to this place, and we want to remember all of it as part of God’s guidance. That does not mean that all that happened in the past was good, but it does mean that even the bad didn’t happen outside the loving presence of God.
It is very hard to keep bringing all of our past under the light of gratitude. There are so many things about which we feel guilt and shame, so many things we simply wish had never happened. But each time we have the courage to look at ‘the all of it’ and to look at it as God looks at it, our guilt becomes a happy guilt and our shame a happy shame because they have brought us to a deeper recognition of God’s mercy, a stronger conviction of God’s guidance, and a more radical commitment to a life in God’s service.
Once all of our past is remembered in gratitude, we are free to be sent into the world to proclaim good news to others. Just as Peter’s denials didn’t paralyze him, but once forgiven, became a new source of his faithfulness, so can all our failures and betrayals be transformed into gratitude and enable us to become messengers of hope.”
It’s so easy to look back on things that have happened to us, or things that we’ve done and want to hide from, or wish it away, or be angry about it. I think it’s normal to want to forget about the choices that we’ve made, or sins that we committed that we deeply regret. It’s normal to not want to remember painful memories or trauma that we’ve experienced. But what Fr. Nouwen offers us through practicing spiritual gratitude is the gift of true freedom. I can’t fully forget everything I’ve done that I’m not proud of, but I can choose to see God in the midst of those moments. I can choose to look for whatever little good he brought out of that time of darkness in my life. However small it may sometimes appear, God can take anything and everything we’ve experienced, and reveal to us how it can be transformed. When I now look back on that time of sin and trauma in my life, I can truly thank God for carrying me through it. I can thank Him for what He taught me, and the humility I gained through messing things up when I tried to live apart from Him. I think a vital step in our healing is embracing all of who we are, all of what we’ve gone through and seeing God there with us. We are not minimizing our past or justifying mistakes made, we are seeing that it is not bigger than our God, and that is something we can always be grateful for.
Messengers of Hope.
There was a simple moment where I finally started to understand how God might be able to use my journey, to bring hope to others. I was on a bus headed back from a conference with other young adults, and the person I was sitting next to started asking me about my faith journey. I shared my testimony—my brokenness, my mistakes, my continued journey of healing and encountering the mercy of God, and how I’m trying to live my life now. When our conversation finished, a young girl behind me came and sat down next to me. She said, “I overheard your conversation about being in some unhealthy relationships and doing things you weren’t proud of, and I just wanted to talk to you because I’m struggling with that right now.”
We sat on the bus and we talked for over an hour about chastity, healthy boundaries, not settling in relationships, the desires of her heart and the restlessness that this relationship was causing. It was a moment that I was able to minister to someone who I could see so much of myself in. I saw her heart and what she longed for. I understood what she was looking for, and I also knew from my own mistakes, that she would never find it in that lifestyle. In that moment, as I sat talking to this young girl about my journey and listening to hers, I realized the power of my story. I realized how my shame had kept me silent for so long out of fear of being judged and yet, there were so many young woman who I could relate to, if only I would have the courage to share my own journey, of how chastity and God’s mercy transformed my life.
My past allowed me to understand the hearts of young women around me, and I started to see that God could use my past to help point them towards the same hope that I came to find. In that moment, the pain, the mistakes, the shame, and everything else that I went through had a new purpose. It’s not that I’m happy I led a life of sin, but that I rejoice that I am not there anymore, and I surrender my story to anyone the Lord wants me to share it with. If someone can be helped through my own mistakes, than that is something that helps me heal a little more each time, and God willing, leads them closer to Jesus in the process.
When I think of post-abortive women who are on the front-lines of the pro-life movement, sharing their stories with other women to help them heal, or not go down the same road that they did—they are messengers of hope.
When I think of people that have suffered tremendous trauma, and they are now ministering to other people who are in the beginning stages of their own healing—they are messengers of hope.
When we share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a hostile world that so badly needs to know of His truth, love and mercy—we are all able to be messengers of hope.
Hope reminds us that we can always begin again. It reassures us that Jesus has a plan for our lives (as broken as we may still be) and it offers us a chance to do something beautiful with our littleness.
The Lord wants to take your story and use it to help heal others, to inspire them, to offer hope to them. If you allow Him, He will transform you into a powerful instrument to help bring healing to others. In that you will discover your wounds, your past, your pain has purpose, and you will become a messenger of something this world so desperately needs—hope.
2018 Drewe DeJesus
Photo from Freely Photos by Warren Wong