Handcuffs

Editor’s note: To help celebrate the Thanksgiving season, Eric Veal is writing a column each week of November to highlight some of the many things he’s thankful for.

Recently, at a family reunion, my cousin decided it would be fun to play a game. We all sat in a circle while he asked us questions. Whoever answered “yes” to a question would move to the next chair, the winner being the first person to move all the way around the circle. Sounded like fun to me, that is, until the very first question.

“Has anyone here ever been arrested?”

Are you haunted by your past? Or do you embrace it, believing God has redeemed it?

Do you hide from your past? Or do you thank God for it—and testify to His transformative power in your life?

Although the choices of my past have left many wounds in their wake and the consequences of my actions have left scars, I have chosen to be grateful for my past.

“Has anyone been arrested?”

The question paralyzed me. I was pretty sure my wife knew. But my kids? I had never told my teenage kids about my overnight stay at the county jail.

What would I do? Hold my position? Or should I move on to the next chair? I had seconds to decide. Should I lie? Or should I be prepared for the long discussion on the way back to the hotel? I decided to tell the truth.

So, I moved to the next chair.

Time is a funny thing. It moves in only one direction, and it comes at us in stages.

Let’s imagine stage A is birth, M is middle age and Z the end of life. If I happen to be at Stage M, and I am presently walking with Christ, then I must be thankful for all the previous stages that led to stage M. Perhaps stage G and K were seasons of hardship and loss. Perhaps another stage a set of failures and bad decisions.

The point is, you can never skip a stage. One stage always leads to another. Therefore, no matter what spiritual condition you were in at a particular stage, what choices you made before salvation or how much pain you endured (or caused others to endure), in order to arrive at your present stage in life, you had to transit through all prior ones.

That is why I am so thankful for my past. It moved me to who I am now. This movement is what God wants. We are always moving toward something. Many of us want to let go of our past or wish it away, but that movement, from then to now, has allowed us to look back and display God’s work. And for this, we ought to be thankful.

The game only lasted 30 minutes. But it felt like a whole stage of my life had passed. And, yes, I did have that dreaded conversation with my children. Thankfully they understood and demonstrated grace toward their father.

But this got me thinking: Had my past really been washed clean? Was I still haunted by my past? Or had I truly embraced the freedom that Christ extends to me, despite my ugly and seemingly unredeemable past?

The past made me who I am today. Without it, I have no understanding of grace. And without grace, I’m just a dead man walking.

Why should every Christian be thankful for their past? Because, somehow, by whatever means necessary and through every painful moment, God has brought you to the present. He took that ugly divorce and brought healing. He took that addiction and declared victory. He took that tragedy, that bitterness, that anger, and transformed it into something beautiful.

He took the scars and made them whole. He has declared us free! Paul writes that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

Sometimes I long to go back and correct the wrongs of my past—to redeem them in my own power. But it will never work. God never meant for it to work. He is the only One who can redeem my life and make the old new.

I’ve realized that throughout all stages of life, God wants me to be completely dependent on Him. But isn’t this exactly where God wants all of us to be? Are we not most useful to Him when we are humble, vulnerable and fully exposed?

During this season of Thanksgiving, remember who you once were. “For you used to walk in these ways, the life you once lived” (Colossians 3:7).

But then take a moment to reflect and give praise to the Lord for what He has made you into—a citizen of heaven and a living testimony of His wonderful grace and mercy.

Eric Veal has been a member of Southeast Christian Church for 29 years.