It’s easy and tempting to recolor our past, removing the highlights of longings or the brushstrokes of pain from our narrative. Here are just a few examples of what I mean:
We reminisce about our wedding and wish to experience the thrill again, forgetting all the family drama and deadline-by-deadline details that went into pulling off the magical day.
We remember our delicious newborns and mourn the passing of those precious early days of bonding, meanwhile conveniently forgetting the severity of the challenges that came with those moments.
We look at photos of vacations gone by and desire to have that thrill again, forgetting what it took to get to that destination and what was going on in our lives during that time.
Recoloring our past is all about remembering the “oooh’s” and “aaah’s” and not a single bit about the “ouch’s!” and “oh no’s!” However, it’s often the combination of both extremes that made the experience so very memorable in the first place! Just this week I was looking back through one of our photo albums and actually caught myself thinking, “life was so easy then.” But, as quickly as that first thought entered my mind, so did this next question: was it really easier or do I tend to re-color the past?
Why do we often fall into this trap about our past? Personally, I think it’s because all of the mystery about tomorrow has been taken out of those moments. We know the outcomes of that particular part of our narrative, so the emotion – good or bad – no longer overwhelms our perspective. However, this is dangerous because it distorts the image and changes our story.
In 1995, Tim and I went on an African safari for our 10th anniversary. My photos of our adventure are some of the best I’ve ever shot. Looking through my album it looks like every bit of an Out of Africa dream vacation. But the truth is Kenya was also a massive escape in the middle of some of the hardest days of my life. I was between IVF cycles and deep into my infertility journey, Tim was dancing around a painful addiction to mask the pain, and I was recovering from a knee surgery that did more harm than good.
Memories tend to focus a little more about the sweetness and less about the sour, when in fact our lives are a little more similar to a SweetTart – a combination of both sides of this sensation. Life’s journey is learning how to accept both of these paths concurrently. In her book, “Choose Joy”, Kay Warren writes “…I’ve come to realize that life is much more like a set of parallel train tracks, with joy and sorrow running inseparably throughout our days.” This is the truth about my trip to Africa nearly 20 years ago. We were in the midst of a bittersweet celebration of our 10th anniversary that was memorialized by the highest of heights and the lowest of lows.
I think it’s a brave thing to remember the truth, instead of disconnecting our memories from pain. Today I choose to remember that great joy often comes with great sorrow. I choose to remember that while we traveled in first-class to our great African safari, the deepest longings of our hearts were being denied. I refuse to recolor the past to serve my brokenness and escape today’s narrative, which prevents me from whole-hearted living. The good and bad of life often come together. It’s my responsibility to keep my train on the track of truth reconciling these concurrent paths I traverse.