Forgetting the Former Things: An Unexpected Sit Down with Miss America

As you may know, I’m an avid reader. I learned to recognize words and read long before elementary school. When I was in the third grade, I read college level material with my mom. (Remember Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”? Yeah. Read it when I was seven.) By the time I entered high school, I already had most of the required reading for the four years under my belt. (I did have to suffer through “Oliver Twist” for a second time, but that’s beside the point.) There was one story, though, that I wasn’t familiar with until I became a freshman: “The Hobbit” by J.R.R Tolkien. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past three years since the movies premiered, or the past seventy-eight years since the book’s initial publishing, you know the story.

If you don’t, here’s the basic rundown.

Hobbit lives in Hobbitown. Hobbit is content with his life, just as his family before him. Hobbit is tricked by Wizard into hosting a party of Dwarves. Dwarves lament about their fallen home and tell Hobbit that they’re taking it back. Dwarves and Wizard attempt to convince Hobbit to sign on for the adventure. Hobbit declines, not wanting to leave behind the comforts of his home and all the things that he is familiar with – hobbits just don’t adventure. After realizing that he’s missing out on such a great opportunity (or because he felt guilty), Hobbit decides to adventure with the Dwarves and Wizard. There’s more wizards, some elves, a few orcs, and a dragon, too. But I won’t spoil it for you.

There’s a poignant scene in the first movie, “An Unexpected Journey”, that happens the morning after the dwarves leave Bilbo’s hobbit hole. Bilbo packs his bag, leaves his home, and runs after the dwarves. What makes this scene so touching is that the only thing Bilbo has ever known has been his hobbit hole in Hobbitown. Everything that he knew, up until Gandalf the Gray Wizard approached him that fateful day, resided in Hobbitown. Hobbit were predictable creatures – they never did anything unexpected of them and they liked it that way. Bilbo liked it that way, too. Until he realized there was something more.

Isaiah 43:18 says this: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

This weekend, I have the amazing opportunity to adventure out with the ladies from my church and attend a women’s retreat in Ocean City, NJ. Our speaker this weekend is a woman named Cheryl Salem. She is a powerful, restored woman of God. She faced many hardships in her life, but the Lord has brought her through. You can read more about her story by clicking here.

Truthfully, our Friday night service was a bit of a blur to me. Mighty, yes. However, I wasn’t tuned in to the message the way that I needed to be tuned in. Instead of entering in a state of worship and communion with God, I guarded my heart from hearing the words of life that were being spoken. My mind was receptive of what I was hearing, but my heart repelled all of it. Just as it had been doing for years.

Now, I don’t necessarily need to lay out my whole testimony for you. (If you’d ever life to hear it, just ask. It’s a long story, though, so bring a snack.) What you do need to know is that I carry an immense amount of baggage. And it’s not just my baggage that I’m carrying. Along with my own luggage, I carry my family’s. All I ever hear are stories of how we, the current generation of my family, are not able to succeed because of the faults of our great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and so on. As if the idea that Id never amount to anything wasn’t bad enough, I actually believed those lies. I believed that I wasn’t worthy of anything because of who I was and who my family defined me as.

I carried it all in with me into the conference room last night. I carried it with me all through the service. I carried it with me just as I always have since I was a little girl. Even through my walk with the Lord, I carried everything until my back broke. And still, in my broken state, I dragged myself along. To be honest with you, I was dragging last night. I sat in the back row, stayed timid during worship, and allowed my mind to wonder during the message in hopes that my mental absence would go unnoticed. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

My pastor, bless this woman, pulled me aside after the service and did something that not many people are willing to do: she looked directly into my eyes. She spoke to me and encouraged me in godly love and wisdom. We talked briefly about the disconnect between my mind and my heart – what knowledge I had of myself in Christ and what I actually believed about myself. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a chair across from our speaker, who also looked me in the eyes and spoke to me in godly love and wisdom. I wasn’t intimidated. Frankly, I was expecting to hear the same jargon that I had been hearing since I accepted Christ. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Instead of hearing what I needed to do before I could move on to the next stage of my relationship with Christ, I heard that the time was now. She looked at and spoke to me with such sincerity and conviction. The Holy Spirit gave her words to say to me that reflected thoughts and feelings that I had never verbalized. She spoke life over me, helped me speak life over myself, and prayed for me.

One of the illustrations that she used last night was regarding baggage. She told us to forget the former things; put our past behind us. When we carry our former things with us – when we carry all of our baggage – it’s like we’re shackled to a corpse. We’re carrying the dead around with us. And if we are in Christ, that’s not where we need to be.

Isaiah continues on in 43:19 saying this: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” Yes, we all have our struggles. Yes, we all have been (or will be) delivered. But if we continue to live in our past and be identified by it, we’ll never be able to move forward. When we carry dead things with us, we will stink like the dead. We have Christ in us, though. We shouldn’t reek of death, but glow with life!

I’ve allowed God to unchain me from my dead things; he’s taken care of all my baggage. And now, much like Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit”, I’ve left what is familiar and comfortable; I’ve left how I formerly identified myself and now choose to adventure on with Jesus and align myself with his truths. The adventure isn’t over yet, though, and I still expect there to be some hiccups, and possibly a dragon, along the way. As long as I have life in Christ, though, nothing can stop me.

What do you carry? How do you identify yourself? Will you allow Jesus to unshackle you from the dead things in your life and move forward into life?

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