Have you ever had a chance encounter with someone from the past who takes you back to a long-ago place in your life? Sometimes it’s a good place with happy memories, but other times it’s a really uncomfortable place that you would rather be forever left in the past. I had that experience yesterday.
On Sundays, my husband and I serve in the “Next Step” reception at our church, where we greet guests who stop by to talk with someone about a prompting that God has placed in their hearts. Yesterday, a lady approached me during the Next Step reception, and although she seemed somewhat familiar, I didn’t recognize her at first. Thankfully my husband remembered how we knew her, from many years back – maybe 15 years ago. We chatted, and out of blue she said, “You look so much better.”
Although I was surprised by that, I thanked her, and we continued to talk. While I tried to see if she had any questions about our church, she said again – and again – five times at least: “Really, you look much, much better.”
Ordinarily you’d think a person would really enjoy comments like that. As if I had some kind of makeover – perhaps a great new hairstyle, a new wardrobe, or some “work done.” But I knew what she meant, and I was uncomfortable. Every time she repeated, “you look so much better,” in my mind I was hearing “…cause you used to look so bad.”
Of course she didn’t mean it this way, and I don’t remember how aware she was of my situation 15 years ago. Maybe she remembered me as having some kind of illness. Whatever she remembered, she was right, whether she had said it explicitly or not – I used to look really bad. Sick. Painfully thin. Standing at death’s door.
Honestly I don’t know why her comments drew out such awkwardness in me. I’ve spoken and written openly about my past struggle with anorexia. Truly I am beyond grateful and thrilled that God has brought me into freedom. Perhaps I look better on the outside, but more importantly, the Lord has healed me on the inside. Whatever my outward appearance may be, He has brought beauty from ashes just as He promised (Isaiah 61:3).
I tried to be gracious to this lady, but I’ll admit being very, very relieved when she walked away.
Why? I wondered. Why didn’t I just say something that would speak of God’s healing work in my life? I thought about this all day long, and I mentioned it to my husband. “She was just trying to encourage you,” he said. And he was right. I was letting myself focus on the negativity – I was hearing the horrible voice of condemnation. You used to look so bad. You messed up. You wasted years.
But God is so good. The Holy Spirit gave me the grace to redirect my mind onto all the other messages I heard in church yesterday:
Through the Word shared by our pastor:
“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).
“God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:8).
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Through the lesson we taught to our fourth grade class in Sunday School:
“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
Through the words of the song “Redeemed,” recorded by the group known as Big Daddy Weave:
Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me “Son,
Stop fighting a fight that’s already been won.”
I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I’m redeemed.
While I’ve reflected on these messages since yesterday, I’ve decided to firmly replant myself in the truth and utilize the shield of faith. When the enemy reminds me of the past, I’ll remind him that I live in this present and eternal reality:
* God loves me. Nothing will ever, ever separate me from His love. He gave His Son that I can be free. There is no need to fear or shrink back or be bound by shame. I am a conqueror through Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, 31 – 39).
* My hope is in my redemption through Christ. He wipes away my stains and removes my chains. I belong eternally to Him (Titus 2:13 – 14).
The Holy Spirit also whispered “Psalm 107” to my heart…a psalm I often think of as if it were my own story:
“Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!”
As I re-read Psalm 107 this morning, the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the first two verses:
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble.”
This is my story; this is my song. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!
Yesterday I failed to say so, but today I will –
“…. thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things!” (Psalm 107: 8 – 9).