Everything in our lives filters through a frame of reference that was created from our past. This frame can be one that brings a healthy balance to our perspective, or it can be one that distorts our perspective. Most of us carry baggage from our past, but how we view it and deal with it will determine the filter it will create upon our lives, now and in the future.
In some cases, we’ve recognized our past frame of reference for what it is – an unhealthy way of viewing and living life – and as a result, we have applied ourselves through the years to seek a healthier and more God-honoring way of living and responding. In other cases, this frame has become our “truth” despite its dysfunction and source of sinful responses.
“It’s just my personality. . .”
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. . .”
“This is just who I am. . .”
“It’s just the way I grew up…”
“This is how I was taught…”
“My Dad/Mom left me, when I was young…”
“My Dad/Mom are responsible for…”
We allow this frame to remain, even as it casts a dark shadow on that which God desires to redeem, if we would but release the excuses and the default reactions.
For some of us, we were taught and had modeled for us a Godly, proper way of living through whatever life may hold.
Whatever our case, whether the God-honoring way or the unhealthy, life-sabotaging frame of reference, it can be helpful to understand the aspects of life that lend to who we are and why we deal with heartaches and loss in the ways that we do.
1. The individuals from our past.
(Parents, Pastors, Teachers, Friends, etc.)
Nurture or nature? It’s a constant argument in the world of psychology as to which plays the greater role in who we are. I would venture to say that both play an equal role. Children watch and learn from what is modeled in front of them, and then, they add that to their innate, created personality. Usually, how we view the authority figures in our lives, especially our father-figure, is how we will view God.
The individuals in our lives may have modeled a lack of emotions during difficult and painful times. “There is no need to cry” or “crying solves nothing” were common refrains. “Pick yourself up by your bootstrap” often walks hand in hand with this way of living. There is no time and there is no room for an outward display of hurt or sadness. It may be believed it would show a lack of faith in God or was a lack of strength. And either/or were unacceptable. Whatever the motivation, emotions weren’t validated and so, in turn we learned to deny them.
Then there is the other extreme. Some grew up with constant drama. A lot of it. Tears, anger, screaming, shouting, verbal abuse, bribes and exaggeration. Everything was a huge deal and life was almost boring if something big wasn’t happening. Emotions were worn on the sleeve and they were often used to garner pity from the world around. Martyrdom and a tendency towards self-pity often accompany this way of emotional reaction.
We may have seen emotions dealt with very inappropriately by using and abusing sleep, food, drugs or alcohol, as coping mechanisms. Even television can be an escape from the pain.
Another negative response may have been “retail therapy,” as a filler for heart-ache. Some may have shut their hearts off from us, taking away the love and security we needed, even as we too were affected by whatever circumstance entered our homes and our family. In turn, we developed our own way of coping. Escaping into a world of fantasy created in our mind. We may have tried to find control in our world. Maybe we sought for this in trying to manage our weight in unhealthy ways, or in sabotaging our weight, as we found comfort in food. Some may have even hurt themselves or others in an effort to have some feeling of power and control.
And then, there was the gift, for some, of growing up with Godly individuals as their models. They learned that tears were normal and healthy, but that hurt wasn’t an excuse for self-pity or sinful behavior. The individuals leading the way were honest about their grief and their pain and even their anger, but then, they took it a step further by using the opportunities to point us to God as the One, who heals all wounds and redeem all brokenness.
2. Experiences and circumstances
(Family Structure, Churches, Schools, Jobs, Abuses, etc.)
Life was either one painful, broken mess
It was a very golden childhood with very little grief ever experienced.
It was a balance of good times and bad times.
a. Those with one painful, broken mess often find that the pain in their adult years tend to yield one of a two main reactions.
One such reaction is, “Of course this would happen. This is my life. It’s always been hard!” and with it, a constant waiting for the other shoe to drop and bringing yet another heartbreak. This undermines our faith in God’s goodness and God’s sovereignty, giving us a distorted view that God has no other plan than to constantly test and hurt us. This view often leads to blame-shifting. Instead of taking responsibility for our actions, we hide behind our past and those who influenced us. This reaction is most often accompanied by a very wrong view of Who God really is.
The opposite reaction can be, “I’ve been through pain before. I know how to get through this. God has seen me through before and He will see me through again. He’s been faithful and this has not changed, no matter what has happened in my life.”
b. If most of life has been easy and beautiful, with very little sadness, sometimes, painful trails can come as a shock. Infertility and/or the loss of a child might be the first profound tragedy ever experienced. It will either push you into the arms of God or it will cause you to turn from Him in anger. We have all heard it said before about trials, “they will either make you or break you.” Often, however, they will do both. God often has to break us to make us. Our spiritual being simply cannot remain unchanged, when faced with heartbreak.
As one of my friends put it when going through a situation that rocked her to her core, “Melissa, because of your life, you know how to get through something like this. This is my first every thing. I don’t know how to do this!”
It’s not that loss is easier or less painful for someone, who has had a difficult life, but it’s possibly more manageable, because of the added perspective.
c. If your past was balanced, you may fall into either of the above responses, or you may have a combination of both.
Our filters are based on a belief-system. If your filter is wrong, your belief-system is wrong. We act and re-act from what we believe to be true. The whole goal of Perfect Joy Ministries and the purpose of our weekly studies is to help shape that belief system from a Biblical perspective. If you replace your warped and dysfunctional filters with the filters of Truth, found in God’s Word, you will see your perspective change, not only during this time of loss, but even in how you view your past. You will have eyes that are opened to grace and forgiveness, and you will be willing and able to be “re-parented” by your loving Heavenly Father.
In the next couple of studies, we will look at the filters of our present and the filters of our future and then discuss some Biblical perspectives on replacing filters.
A wonderful book on dealing with your past and the filters it has helped create is “Tired of Trying to Measure Up” by Jeff VanVonderen.
Original material by Melissa J Carswell, MA, BCCC. Holly M Besser. Perfect Joy Ministries ©2013. May not be used or re-printed without permission. bsbp30p03-21-13