This week I got an email from a long-time friend in the throes of change. She was discouraged that she was moving back to her hometown after living overseas. She felt like she was moving backwards in her life.
I know that feeling well. I too, have left places only to return a few years later. I remember feeling depressed at going back. I had changed, would my old life try to press me back into its mold? Would old friendships still be available to me? Would old habits or bad memories pounce on me and try to shackle me again? Fear mixed with sadness blunted my hope and anticipation of the future.
Re-entry shock is real for missionaries. Not only have new shops and subdivisions been built while I was gone, but new people have moved into the space that I once occupied within my circle of friends. There are new faces at church, new faces on campus, new faces in all your old places. I remember many years after I graduated from college I returned to the campus to say Hi to some friends who still worked there. I needed to use the bathroom. I excused myself and headed down the hallway were there USED TO BE a public restroom. Suddenly I noticed that the whole wing had been renovated. I stood looking at the wall were the door had once been. I looked left, I looked right. I finally hailed the nearest 19-year old and asked where the bathroom was. She called me ma’am. I felt so old. I used to know this place like the back of my hand! I used to know people here and they knew me too! I felt like shouting down the hall to no one in particular, “Hey! I used to BE somebody here, you know!!”
The thing is, Life rarely moves in a straight line. Sometimes it doesn’t even move forward. Time always moves forward, but sometimes Life goes backwards, or sideways, or even comes to a stand still for a while. (Ever have a loved one in the hospital? Then you know what I mean.)
Life is more like a Slinky. If you hold the top of a Slinky and let the bottom drop you get a long spiral. This is how I imagine Life. We keep cycling and recycling up through lessons, places and relationships but each time we cycle back around we are on a different level. Hopefully a higher level. This time around we are more mature and will see details that we missed with our more youthful perspective. We have a greater framework of experience on which to hang these reviewed experiences. We are wiser and know how to avoid traps that we fell into before. God has a new lesson to teach us in an old place.
We can look at those old shackles lying on the ground at our feet and not fear that we might pick them up and put them on again. That’s called “Victory”. We now know how to pick them up and move them out of the way so we can keep moving on. We don’t have to fear old habits, old relationships, old ways of being. We let God teach us how to hang them up for good. And remind ourselves that we are not the same person who passed through here last time. I have changed. I am stronger, wiser, more focused, more powerful. This time around I have a better perspective. This time around I am more of who God is making me to be. So don’t let the Slinky of Life get tangled and cause frustration. Just keep moving upwards as God leads you and teaches you.