Our past can become a prison that perpetuates the bondage of those who raised us. Somehow we unintentionally reproduce that same destructive culture in ourselves and in those around us. There are a few common ways that this happens in us. One of the ways we tether ourselves to the past is by reacting to those who abused us and spending our lives trying not to be like them.
I have counseled a lot of people over the years and have observed a common pattern among many of them: People typically become like the person they most despise. Alcoholics, for instance, are commonly raised by alcoholic parents. I personally have never met a child molester who wasn’t a victim of molestation. At some point in the counseling session, there is nearly always a statement like, “I swore I would never be like the person who abused me, but I have become just like them.” I know this struggle well myself. In spite of struggling not to be like my stepfathers through most of my early life, I started becoming an angry man just like them.
During my early twenties, I managed an automotive repair shop. My temper was already growing out of control. I remember one of those times distinctly. A customer came in to pick up his car, but we were running late and it wasn’t finished. He had somewhere he needed to be, so he was a little upset. He kept coming into the shop and asking if we were done. The third time he came in, I got so mad that I grabbed a two-foot long wrench and threw it all the way across the shop at him. It was a good thing that he ducked because it barely missed his head.
Another time, I was working on a truck for several days. It was a four- wheel drive, and I had to sit inside the engine compartment to do the work. When I finally got the heads back on the engine and started it up, the problem that I thought I had fixed was still there. I was livid! I picked up a large sledgehammer and went after the truck, intending to destroy it. My boss saw me heading for the vehicle, yelling with my hammer in my hand, so he rushed over and tackled me to the ground. He held me there until I calmed down.
We Become What We Imagine
I was becoming the very person I despised. One day I was reading the Old Testament and began to receive insight about my struggle through the story of Jacob and his father-in-law. Jacob was a trickster by nature. His name actually means “deceiver.” He even deceived his own father out of his brother’s birthright. A few chapters later, Jacob married into a family that gave him some of his own medicine. He worked for his father- in-law, Laban, for seven years so he could marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel. When he woke up on the honeymoon morning, Leah was in his bed. Laban had neglected to tell him that their family tradition dictated that the oldest daughter marries first. He finagled another seven years of work out of Jacob with this trick because Jacob still wanted Rachel. Thankfully he got her on credit! He received her a week later and then paid for her in small monthly installments over the next seven years.
After 14 years of mistrust and dishonesty, Jacob was ready to leave. He told his father-in-law to give him what was his so he could go his own way. Laban was no fool. He knew that Jacob was making him a fortune. Laban told Jacob to name his wage and stay with him. Jacob knew that no matter what his wages were, his father-in-law would find some way to cheat him out of it. He said, “You have changed my wage ten times!” Jacob told Laban that he would work for all the spotted and speckled sheep and goats. These animals would become his wage. They struck a deal.
I am sure Laban thought that he outsmarted Jacob again as there were probably very few spotted and speckled among the flocks. But the story takes on the most unusual twist. Jacob carved branches, exposing the white beneath the bark. He then put the branches in front of the watering troughs whenever the best of the sheep were drinking and mating there. This resulted in the strongest sheep and goats giving birth to spotted and speckled offspring. Before long, Jacob became rich because his flocks prospered while Laban’s flocks were feeble.
As I pondered this unusual passage, it dawned on me that this was not a lesson in agriculture! God was demonstrating how we, His sheep, reproduce. The watering hole is a place of reflection, which means both gazing at something and meditating on it. Meditation involves our imagination. If we feed our imagination with thoughts of what we don’t want to become and drink from the well of regret, we reproduce that very thing in ourselves. It doesn’t matter what we want to reproduce. It’s only important what we imagine while we are thinking and drinking at the watering hole of our imagination.
This principle is also illustrated in the creation of man. The Bible says we were created in God’s image. In other words, what God imagined, we became. Proverbs says, “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). Our imagination is a very powerful part of our being. Everything that has ever been built, made, painted, or developed began in someone’s imagination. We tend to reproduce what we feast our thoughts upon.
What I am realizing about many of us is that we spend much of our lives reacting to what we don’t want to be instead of responding to the call of God on our lives. We waste a lot of energy trying not to be something. In order to not be something, I have to keep it in front of me so I can avoid it. The crazy thing is that I reproduce what I imagine. If I see what I don’t want to be, just envisioning it causes me to reproduce it. This explains why so many people grow up mistreating their children in the same way that their parents abused them. They promised themselves that they would never become like their folks, but they became just like them.
Reacting to the Past or Responding to the Vision
We break out of this prison by responding to the call of God on our lives and meditating on His vision for us. The word meditation is related to the word medicine. In a positive sense, meditation means to “think in such a way as to make oneself healthy.” We become the person He has called us to be when we meditate on the things of God and dream His dreams. The Psalmist wrote, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). Bill Johnson has a creative definition of desire. He breaks it down into two parts: “de” meaning “of,” and “sire” meaning “to father.” When we delight ourselves in God, instead of hanging out in our past, He becomes the father, the sire, of our dreams.