My Past Didn’t Shape Me, It Simply Taught Me

I feel like I’ve awakened from decades of sleep. I’m stunned at how this reality isn’t taught to us from our earliest ability to comprehend. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been seeing a therapist. I am 100% confident that my counselor was ordained by God, and I’m even more sure of that now as I write this. There are too many reasons to detail here, and that’s not what this is about.

Over the past two years, I’ve been doing some great work with my counselor. I really have made strides that I never, ever, ever thought were possible. I was consumed with guilt, remorse, feeling not good enough, constantly critical of my every thought and action, worried that my next step would be the fatal one for me or my family. But there never, ever, ever has been that fatal last step. I’m tapping out these words on my laptop in a dark room at 5 a.m., and that proves I have a clock to tell me the time, a room to actually write in, and a laptop to write with.

All my missteps of the past have not squashed me or my family. I don’t know that I’d be where I am today without those missteps and the dysfunctional events of my childhood. I’m not saying that I’m in a perfect place today, but it is perfect for me. My family is healthy and good. I’m in a job that seems alarmingly doable. I’m in school that will ultimately move me from being focused merely on helping me pay bills to being focused on helping others breathe easier in their life journey.

While I would have loved to come to this place decades ago, I don’t believe that would have been possible. All my life experiences, the stuff I thought would destroy me, the stupid things I’ve done, the wasted time and money, the challenging people I’ve known, as well as the stuff I thought would make me, the triumphs I’ve had, the wonderful people I’ve known, the beautiful times, and the good decisions I’ve made, all of these have impacted me. But they don’t define me.

I know that may sound like something you’ve heard before, but there’s a difference for me. Yes, I’ve always understood that my life experiences have shaped my thinking, but I am just understanding a critical difference. While I always thought that everything in my life contributes to who I am today, I also thought about my life in an “if only” way: “I am who I am today, but if only my father had been kinder and more compassionate, if only I was trained better to manage my time, money, etc., if only I had more patience, love, understanding, wisdom…”

The beautiful thing that I’m realizing is that I’m okay. And I’m not okay in spite of or even because of my past. All that stuff is my past, good and bad, but I am who I am, and while some of that stuff has impacted how I see the world and myself, I am not my experiences, bad or good. I am, at my core, a person intentionally created by God. And while this may stir up some creepy religious images for some, even for me at times, I can’t deny the pureness of this thought.

My past does not define me. My inner voices do not control me. The fantasies that we all have to be richer, kinder, more patient, more tolerant, more, better, faster, or easier are all ideals that we’ll never attain, because regardless of whatever standard we hit, we will always want to be more and better. This is a cycle that is training us to despair because this thinking drives us to never be good enough now. So we weigh ourselves down with criticism and self-doubt.

I hate trendy terms. It bothers me to hear things that sound idealistic and feel like a placebo. The word “enough” is one of those words. Recently I’ve been hearing that word everywhere. I hear people saying they are “enough.” And I don’t know what that means. Enough what?

But I’m starting to understand. I used to think that my childhood, work history, church background, etc. shaped me. I’m beginning to see that I am who I am, regardless of any of that other stuff. I do believe that God uses that stuff to teach us, but that stuff doesn’t define us.

I was recently talking with my therapist about some stupid stuff my parents did that I witnessed when I was a kid. She sensed my discomfort after telling the stories, and she told me that I don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed by those things. I didn’t quite understand that because I was trained to think that you are your choices and experiences. But I’m starting to see that I am who I am, and my experiences are external to me.

My goodness and kindness are who I am, and I love that. I am a person made in the image of God. And while I’m not in any way perfect, I believe that I’m okay. God has brought me to this point, experiences, choices, and all, and I still am the person he created decades ago. I am His, and I’m His in all the pureness He intended. There is simplicity and beauty in that. I look forward to embracing this as I move forward throughout the highs and lows in the years that remain. I am okay. And I will breathe knowing that I am enough.

I’m a married father of two currently living in IL.

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