Why Facing Your Past May Save Your Marriage’s Future

Today’s post from Kay Bruner is a topic I (Josh) am particularly passionate about. Trauma I experienced in MY past nearly wrecked my marriage, and in my 10+ years of ministry I have talked with dozens of people who, like me, are blind to how their pasts are sabotaging your future. For those of you receptive to this topic, read on! For those of you who already find yourself saying “ugh, not another one of these touchy feely ‘think about your upbringing’ posts I’d just ask that you read this and ask God if there’s anything he’d want to say to you. 

“What difference does it really make, all this poking around in your childhood?  What good does it do?”  A friend of mine asked me this the other night. Well, since you asked…

The truth sets you free.

Jesus said it, we believe it, that settles it.

And when we try it out, we find it actually works, even when you’re poking around in your childhood.

I can’t tell you how many times somebody comes  into therapy saying, “My childhood was pretty good.  In fact, my parents were in ministry.  Nobody abused me.  Why am I so depressed/anxious/addicted?”

And we start exploring the tender places, the hurts.  And I’ll ask about when they first remember feeling that way, and they’ll tell me a story about something that happened when they were little.  Many times they’ve never talked about it before, and the shame or guilt or hurt or anger has stayed pretty much the same since it happened.

(And if you don’t think that little kids can feel things deeply and strongly, go hang out near the church nursery on Sunday morning.  Let me know if you observe any intense emotion.)

One of my clients experienced extreme shame as a young adult.  So we talked about important emotional experiences early in life, and she told about a household accident in which her younger sister was quite seriously injured.  And as she told the story, it was clear that she absolutely believed that the accident was completely and solely her fault.  She felt incredible shame over what she had done.

My client was four years old at the time of the accident.   

Finally I said to her, “Where were your parents when all this happened?”

And she said, “Huh.  I don’t know.  I never thought about that before.”

We started wondering why a four year old was in charge, and how these events could have occurred without adult intervention.  It was a pretty big aha moment.  And an opportunity to let go of something that could not possibly have been her fault.

When something happens to you as a child, you understand and process it as a child.  And if you never get a chance to think about it as an adult, and process the emotions as an adult, you’re stuck with your childish understanding and your childish emotions about it.

Here’s another thing.  When we poke around in our childhood and bring the truth to it, we can let go of the burden of fixing our families.

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Our families are all composed of human beings.  Our parents are human beings.  Our grandparents are human beings.  Our aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and in-laws are all human beings.

None of them were perfect.  Some of them were significantly less than perfect.  Some of them were neglectful.  Some of them were actively harmful.

It is sometimes hard to tell the truth–even to ourselves–about the hurtful choices and actions of our beloved family members.

Here’s the thing, though.  When we can’t face the fact that Daddy or Mama or Grandpa Joe are making bad choices, and have been making bad choices, and look to be making bad choices til the cows come home–most of the time we will find ourselves engaged in all kinds of crazy behavior in an attempt to prevent and conceal and fluff their bad choices.

When that’s an entrenched way of life, we call it codependency.   I’ve written about it before.

Maybe, as I face things honestly, and let go of having to fix everything, I can trust God for THEM, and let Him deal with ME, too.

(You can see how this starts to expand past your childhood and get all up in your present, with the other people who need to love and approve and attend.)

When we face up to reality, it’s hard and it hurts.  But it’s also very freeing to get off the crazy train.  A little disorienting, for sure.

But when the dizziness wears off, and you find yourself unshackled and running in the open air–that’s a good, good day.

Trust me, it’s a good thing to get free and breathe.

Here’s one more thing.

Your life is God’s gift to you.

And, potentially, your life is God’s gift to those around you.

When we live our lives small and afraid, Satan wins.  And when we live our lives out of lies, Satan wins.

But when we are willing to face the truth, and let it set us free, we’re asking God to redeem.  We’re saying no to bondage and yes to freedom.

We trust God with everything that weighs us down and holds us back.  All our hurts, all our shame, all our anger and grief.

And ultimately, that’s why we poke around in the past.  So we can lay it down and press on to all the promises before us.

What does “poking around in the past” bring up for you?