Making Peace With Your Past

“Why have you come here?” Isaac asked. “You obviously hate me, since you kicked me off your land.”  Genesis 26:27 NLT

When was the last time you ran into someone you preferred not to see?  What thoughts went through your mind and what emotions did you feel?  How did you handle it?

We all have people like that in our lives.  In fact it happened to me just recently.  I was surprised at my reaction.  Stuff from the past I had either forgotten or thought I had dealt with surfaced.  I found myself swallowing hard, composing myself and mustering up the grace to make friendly conversation.  But there was a reserve in my heart and a measure of self protection that was unsettling for me.

Afterward I could not help but sense that God had engineered the encounter to get my attention and that it was not a mere coincidence or happenstance that I was faced with relating to that particular person.  In fact having given a message (Connecting the Dots) several weeks ago about the Jewish patriarch Isaac making peace with his past, I had been sensitized to the necessity of that process in my own life.

Isaac’s story in Genesis 26 of his conflict and rejection at the hands of Abimelech, king of the Philistines, is really not unlike any of our stories when our relationships with people go south.  It thrust him into a season of adversity and adjustments that God ultimately used for good in his life.  My previous blog posts on “Connecting the Dots in Adversity” and “When Adversity Forces a Defining Decision” chronicle that journey.

What I discovered was that Isaac’s story was not complete without the closure God forced upon him after he had settled and forgotten all about Abimelech.  Abimelech shows up unexpectedly, accompanied by both his personal advisor and the commander of his army.  Talk about an intimidating encounter and one that Isaac would have preferred to avoid.  All of the past hurt and personal offense surface immediately and Isaac reacts with “Why have you come to me, since you were hostile to me and sent me away?” (vs. 27)  He wasn’t as adept at hiding his emotions as many of us can be when confronted with the remembrance of past wounds in relationships.

But I believe God had arranged that encounter for Isaac, just as He does for each of us, to reveal unresolved issues in our hearts and nudge us toward reconciliation and making peace with our past.  It is a necessary step to enable us to fully enjoy the blessings of our present and move on into a preferred future.  It’s been said that those who war with their past will end up forfeiting their future, and based on biblical principles that is true.

It takes Isaac time, in this case twenty-four hours, to finally come to a place of resolving the issues in his heart that he has with Abimelech.  After his initial negative reaction he puts his best foot forward, engages in conversation and is gracious in providing a feast for them.  But he has to sleep on it before arriving at a full release to genuinely make peace with Abimelech and once and for all bury the hatchet. (vs. 30-31)

Forgiveness is always the linchpin to peaceful resolution of conflict and leaving the past behind.  Arriving at it can take time.  It is often not easy, but with God’s help it is possible.  It is a decision of the will and not an emotion or something a person must feel.  It might be said of forgiveness that we must mouth it until we mean it. 

Many years ago someone sent me a card.  Inside it said, “God is with you in your determination to do what is right.”  That is a very empowering statement, particularly when it comes to willing things we don’t feel like doing.  Forgiveness has been likened to tearing up an IOU.  The action itself carries the power, not the feelings accompanying it.  God’s anointing is upon our actions taken in faith and not our feelings.  Feelings, like a caboose, will eventually follow, but the engine of faith-in-action must lead.

No sooner had Isaac sent Abimelech and his men away in peace, than he got word of an amazing breakthrough.  That very day his servants came to him announcing “We’ve found water!”  I believe it was a sign of God’s blessing upon Isaac for taking the steps he needed to take with Abimelech.  To mark that occasion of his reconciliation Isaac named the well Shibah which means “oath”. (vs. 32-33)  At long last, he had made peace with his past and that well became the proof and reminder that it was a done deal.

How do you know if you have unsettled business with relationships in your past?  You can ask God to show you if you do.  But rest assured, invariably He will bring those people across your path.  You will know it because you will find yourself remembering unpleasant things from your past with them and wishing you could avoid them.  All of us would do well to take it as an opportunity like Isaac did to engage in the process of bringing a once-and-for-all resolution.  The Lord is with us in our determination to do what is right! 

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

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