I Needed My Past

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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When one of our children has felt rejected by a group or thought she was unattractive and unacceptable, my stomach has tightened and I have ached for her. I've wanted to run and hold my little girl and protect her from the pain and rejection of the world. But at such moments, I am never sure exactly how to pray. Because every time the situation comes up, I remember Alice's face one night many years ago.

We were in a small group of adults who were struggling together to learn how to pray and to live as Christians. We were getting acquainted by going around the room, each telling the others some things about his or her childhood. One older lady had had a good many disappointments and seemed bitter about her past. Then it was Alice's turn. She spoke to us hesitantly.

"When I was a tiny little girl, I was put in an orphanage. I was not pretty at all, and no one wanted me. But I can recall longing to be adopted and loved by a family as far back as I can remember. I thought about it day and night. But everything I did seemed to go wrong. I tried hard to please everybody who came to look me over, and all I did was drive people away. Then one day the head of the orphanage told me a family was going to come and take me home with them. I was so excited; I jumped up and down and cried. The matron reminded me that I was on trial and that it might not be a permanent arrangement. But I just knew it would be. So I went with this family and started to school in their town—a very happy little girl. And life began to open for me, just a little.

"But one day, a few months later, I skipped home from school and ran in the front door of the big old house we lived in. No one was at home, but there in the middle of the front hall was my battered old suitcase with my little coat thrown over it. As I stood there and looked at that suitcase, it slowly dawned on me what it meant—they didn't want me. And I hadn't even suspected."

Alice stopped speaking a moment, but we didn't notice. We were each standing in that front hall with the high ceiling, looking at the battered suitcase and trying not to cry. Then Alice cleared her throat and said almost matter-of-factly, "That happened to me seven times before I was thirteen years old."

I looked at this tall, forty-year-old, gray-haired woman sitting across the room and wept. I had just met Alice, but I found myself loving her and feeling a great compassion for her. She looked up, surprised and touched at what happened to us as we had responded to her story. But she held up her hand and shook her head slightly, in a gesture to stop us from feeling sorry for her. "Don't," she said with a genuinely happy smile. "I needed my past. You see—it brought me to God."

Can this be true? Is there any greater wretchedness than to taste the dregs of our own insufficiency and misery and hopelessness, and to know that we are certainly worth nothing at all? Yet it is blessed to be reduced to these depths if, in them, we can find God. Until we have reached the bottom of the abyss, there is still something for us to choose between all and nothing. There is still something in between. We can still evade the decision. When we are reduced to our last extreme, there is no further evasion. The choice is a terrible one. It is made in the heart of darkness, but with an intuition that is unbearable by its angelic clarity: when we who have been destroyed and seem to be in hell miraculously choose God! (Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island)

Dear Lord, help me to remember that you did not promise to take us out of the problems of the world, but that you did promise to be with us as we face them. Give me the faith and the courage to let my children live and take their knocks without panicking. And when they fail, help me to stand by them as they try to pick up the pieces and move into the future. Help me to give them support but not to overprotect them from the difficulties of growing up, since I remember that I, like Alice, needed the problems of my past to bring me to you.

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8-11)

Keith Miller was the founding director of Laity Lodge.