The simple things can change your story. As I've been talking about for the past couple of days, it's the simple that God asks of us. Which doesn't necessarily mean it's easy.
And one of the hardest parts of the simple story is learning to keep telling it even when it changes.
This is a problem I have personally struggled with, and continue to. Our inclination is to "throw off the old self" so completely that it's not even our story anymore. Something changes, and we want to forget or at least move past all that ever was and start a new story. It doesn't work that way.
Naaman was healed of his skin disease. But when he went back to the land of his own people, there were probably more than a few doubters. People who still didn't want to touch him, or didn't want him touching them. Or didn't want him touching anything. A wife who may have kept one eye open for hidden spots of skin disease, though she was trying her best to just love her husband. Stuff lingers. Naaman became a new man, at least a man with new skin, but that only changed really one thing about the old man. Naaman was still Naaman, just without his dreaded skin disease. If he wanted to convince everyone, including himself, that everything had changed...it just wasn't true.
I think we all had that moment at our baptism, or the day we committed our life to Christ. Didn't we? We had that first agonizing hour, day, week, month?, year? where we proudly declared that we weren't who we were any more but that instead, we were a Christian! As if this was somehow supposed to start us over, hit our reset button, create a new person with a new story who doesn't have to deal with any of that former mess.
There are things in our lives that are such heavy burdens, things that have seemed to tell our story for us for so long. These are the things that people think of first when they look at us. They are the memories, the preconceived notions, the perceptions that sort of define us. They are the circumstances that have so shaped us that anyone looking at us might think we look more like a circumstance than a human being any more. When those things change, by the grace of God when they finally change, we are eager to shake the whole story off and start a new one.
But story doesn't work like that.
The way we try to tell it, our story is a series of beginnings. We're always trying to start over, always trying to get one good story and get it right. Always thinking that if we can go back to once upon a time, we have a better shot at happily ever after. What happens is that we end up living a life where we never get started because we're always starting over.
The key to any good story is to figure out how to keep telling it, even when the story changes. When the character develops. When the plot thickens. When the circumstances change. How do you tell your story when it starts to turn - for the better or the worse?
Nobody forgets that Aladdin was a street rat. Nobody forgets that Cinderella was a slave. Nobody forgets that Matthew was a tax collector. Nobody forgets that Paul was a persecutor. (Your cute little name change isn't fooling anyone, Saul.) Nobody forgets who you once were; it is incumbent upon you to show them who you now are. And by what grace.
That is story. That is God's story, the changing of people from one thing to another. From broken to whole. From hurting to healed. From tax collector to disciple. From persecutor to pastor. From who I was to who I will be, by way of who I am right now. It's a pretty good story.
And it takes grace. It takes the grace of God to find you, to hear you, to hold you, and to change you. It takes the grace of your own heart to embrace all that you ever were, knowing that shapes all that you might ever be. It is the grace of not pretending that you have to start over. It is the grace to know that the middle of the story is always kind of a mess (or a really big mess), and that none of that changes the magic in the once upon a time or the promise of a happily ever after. It's just mess. It's just the middle. It's just how story is.
We ought to stop thinking we have to keep starting over. God never said such a silly thing. Not even about baptism. He said you are a new creature, having put on the clothes of Christ. But He never said you were created new. He said you are being made new by the renewing of your mind. But He never said you were being newly made.
You are who you are. Instead of trying to tell the perfect story with your life, focus on telling your story perfectly. Focus on giving yourself grace for who you used to be. Focus on giving Him praise for who you are now. Focus on rejoicing in the promise of who you one day will be. And just tell the story. Somewhere in the middle, it's always a mess, but there's something satisfying in the way it ends.
That's true about every story of redemption. It's true about mine. And it's true about yours.