I had a lovely two days in Upstate New York visiting the two towns where I grew up, Perry and Geneseo. The highlight of my trip was getting to see old friends at my high school reunion in Geneseo, reminiscing about teachers and events as well as missing some classmates who couldn’t attend. We are already making plans for our next reunion in 5 years which will be our 50th.
As I drove by familiar buildings and spots, I was flooded by childhood memories:
1. Spelling Bee Champion in the eighth grade at Perry Central
2. Riding in parades all summer as Miss Geneseo my junior year of high school
3. My first kiss with my first boyfriend in a cemetery in Geneseo
4. Working at Peterson Drug as a clerk where I developed my passion for pharmacy
5. Waiting for an airplane with my aunt to go to school in Oklahoma; she gave me my first electronic calculator as I was boarding the plane
I was surprised that other negative thoughts started to creep into my head of the times I’d failed or let other people down:
1. The time I cheated on a spelling test when I couldn’t remember how to spell “why”
2. The “F” I got in Calculus II my freshman year of college at SUNY @ Geneseo
3. The poor choice of boyfriend I dated my freshman year of College
4. The “16” I took on a par 4 when playing golf for the University of Oklahoma
5. The distance I set between us when a good friend’s spouse passed away
The most surprising thing about the negativity was that I hadn’t consciously thought of the events in decades. But there they were lurking in the dark, reminding me of my imperfections.
The worst part was that I couldn’t get them out of my mind. Guilt and shame are strong emotions.
On the plane home on Saturday I was wondering why the memories came back to me after all these years. I’d only cheated once on a spelling test, I made “A”s and “B”s after my disastrous Freshman Spring semester and I curbed my anger on the golf course. I also vowed to never distance from a friend when we had an opportunity to weep together. Since I had changed in these aspects of my life, why couldn’t I let those early failures go?
I was reading Henri Nouwen’s, Here and Now, on the plane ride home. Although he was talking about worry in Chapter IX, I took notice of this sentence, “…how can we train our hearts and minds not to waste time and energy with anxious ruminations that make us spin around inside of ourselves. Jesus says: “Set your heart on God’s kingdom first.”
I knew that it was time to let those negative memories from decades ago fade.
Paul says in Romans 7:15-20:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
I believe in self-examination, but only for the present, not for decades past.
On Sunday, the Rev. Leigh Spruill preached on Guilt and Shame from this same Scripture verse. He reinforced that I am a sinner and that sins dwell in me, but I need to let the past be the past and concentrate on the present, seeking solace in the yoke of Christ. Here’s an audio of his thoughtful sermon: The Burden of Guilt and the Yoke of Christ.
Blessings, my friend,