One day at the bus stop, I saw a woman take her daughter by the ponytail, pull up, and force her to move down the sidewalk. As the girl walked forward, she tried to reach up and pull her mother’s hand away, to no avail. As the little girl cried and begged her mother to stop, a man standing nearby laughed about it, and the mother began laughing, too.
That little girl is going to grow up and someone is going to try to make her do something she doesn’t want to do. Maybe a college professor will tell her to redo an assignment; maybe her fiancé will insist that she eat Christmas dinner with his family; or maybe a supervisor will write a bad performance review and tell her she has to sign it.
If she hasn’t dealt with her legitimate anger and resentment toward her mother, she may fire back in a way that seems over-the-top to others. But what they won’t realize — what she won’t even realize — is that she’s not just responding to the circumstances of the present. She’s responding to the powerlessness of her past.
Ray Kane says, “Where there is intensity, there is history.” A lot of us have unpredictable areas of intensity in our lives; circumstances that can bring out our insecurity, anger, or feelings of helplessness. When that happens, we often don’t understand the "why" behind it. We just know we’re suddenly reacting, and reacting seems like the only option.
For example, several years ago, my brother Caleb and I were in a car together, and he was telling me about a couple that was having serious marital problems. After he described the impact on the children, I exploded in anger, raging against the parents for a couple of minutes until I suddenly stopped, took a deep breath, and looked over at Caleb.
“Whoa,” he said. “I think you may need to work through some issues with our parents’ divorce, Josh.”
I eventually realized he was right — where there is intensity, there is history.
The next time you find yourself blowing a fuse in anger, crumbling into insecurity, or reduced to sadness in a way that baffles the people around you, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the history behind those emotions. There’s a good chance you’re responding to something more than just the circumstances.
We often hold onto the baggage of the past because we get a sense of identity from it, but Scripture calls us to leave it behind as we “strain forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). That’s never going to happen until we take our histories — the mom who led us around by our ponytail, the marriage that came apart from under us, the coworkers who mistreated us — and put them in their proper place: on the cross of Christ, where they can finally die and stop haunting us.
It will be a painful death, and it will undoubtedly involve care from someone who has experience helping people revisit their trauma and walking through it with Jesus. But it’s the only place where we can find freedom from interacting with past circumstances that have far too much influence on the present.