I’m not going to lie. I was a serious force in little league baseball in fourth grade. In my first year, I made the all-star team and had the best batting average on my team. And when the season concluded (with a decent all-star game performance, I might add), I was poised—in my own mind, at least—for a serious run at a major league career.
One afternoon during the summer after that first season, my dad and I were playing catch in the backyard, like we had done countless times prior. But early in our session, as I threw the ball to my dad, I became distracted by my dog, which was barking wildly at a snake or some other small creature in the grass. I turned my head to see what going on as the ball was in mid-air, traveling to him. I kept investigating my dog for a moment, assuming that my dad would wait until I made eye contact with him again before he threw the ball back to me. But then I heard my name being shouted, and as I turned back to him, the ball was already in the air. I raised my glove …
But it was too late.
Then, I heard an earth-pummeling, skull-crunching, galaxy-devastating, nuclear-blast-of-an-explosion on the upper right region/area/locale of my face. More specifically, the baseball had collided with my right eye, and the world had gone black. It was .23 seconds later that I set the US decibel record for loudest blood-curdling wail by a human.
Getting hit by a baseball in the eye—even a lightly thrown one—is sort of indescribable. Imagine the sound of a wrecking ball smashing into a steel building, combined with the sound of an airplane engine being amplified through the PA system at Yankee stadium inside your head at the same instant. Then, imagine your head sitting between a head-on collision of two half-ton pickups who are speeding at one another at 88 miles per hour.
That’s right, 88 miles per hour.
Okay, I exaggerate. But not by much. It truly sucked, and it was quite painful.
As I wailed and scared the living excrement out of every living human within three counties, my dad rushed me into the house to get some ice. But instead, he decided to grab a hunk of raw meat from the freezer and slap it on the side of my face. This sent aftershocks of the pain radiating down the whole right side of my body. I let out another scream as he did so.
My eye swelled shut in a matter of seconds. The pain would not subside for hours. It would be two weeks before the enormous shiner was completely gone.
Though the damage to my face was considerable, the greater damage was done to my baseball mojo. It took me more than a month to work up the courage to even pick up my mitt after that.
When my dad finally convinced me to get back on the field, I was more than a little gun-shy. We started with batting practice. When he threw the first pitch, I flew backwards, launching myself five feet from the plate to avoid the ball. All I could hear in my head was that horrendous crunching sound, and all I could see was the flash when the lights when out.
This was bad. Real bad. Baseball season was approaching. I was moving up to a higher league where everything would be faster and harder than before. All I could see in my future was the potential for another smash in the face …
How was I going to make it through the season, let alone play well?
We all have disappointing experiences in our pasts. Accidents, mistakes, poor decisions, mean acts from mean people to nice ones. And as we look to what’s ahead, the voices from the past show up and threaten our perspective about the future, causing fear, doubt and anxiety. They say things like:
What if I shouldn’t have broken up with him/her?
What if we lose this house because we got an interest-only loan?
What if the person I marry ends up treating me badly, just like my parents did?
What if that dude I pantsed in junior high finds out where I live?
What if I should have been a carpenter instead of a Christian hip-hop artist?
What if I paid too much for my car insurance?
What if, by repeatedly avoiding the census takers at my door I am actually placing myself on a secret FBI list that will one day result in my being sent up the river to a special prison where they force us to watch only the Bravo network and more specifically the real housewives of Orange County, New Jersey, Atlanta and New York on infinite repeat?
What if God doesn’t protect me in the future?
And as fear lays itself on thick, our attempts to alleviate our worry as a result are strained and difficult. Because bad things have happened in the past, more bad things must be coming. This hinders our peace, as well as our joy in the present. We stop living because our histories are haunting us, and we will do anything to avoid more pain.
But consider this, if you are dealing with anxiety about what lies ahead:
Fear of the future usually comes from an incorrect view of the past.
Remember, we all make stupid decisions. Disappointments are a part of life. Maybe we trusted the wrong person and got burned. Maybe a family member treated us poorly when we were growing up. Or perhaps we thought there wouldn’t be a cop looming under that overpass while we were doing 95. We let the big one get away. We decided to pursue Christian hip-hop instead of carpentry. But does any of this really mean our future will look the same as our past? Are we doomed to repeat history?
No. We are not.
As it turns out, we are in complete control of our pasts. Unfortunately, we can’t change it, but we can use it in any way we please. We can either use it to justify the fear of the future, or we can use it as a learning tool. Ironically, if we see the past as a reason to be afraid, we are more likely to make similar mistakes. This is a victim-like response that is passive and counter-productive. But if we choose to learn, we are making a choice to take action. And in this way, a troubled past becomes an ally, an insurance policy that will actually give us the best chance for a different future.
To learn from the past is to grow in faith and wisdom.
The conclusion? You need not worry. The past does not dictate the future. And wisdom gained from learning from past experiences actually makes it is easier to trust God with our futures. A wise man learns from both his missteps and his bad experiences to become a more righteous person.
This discussion brings a famous poem to mind. Many of you have heard this before, but now may be a good time for a refresher:
I was regretting the past
and fearing the future.
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
"My name is I AM"
I waited. He continued,
"When you live in the past
with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WILL BE.
When you live in this moment
it is not hard. I am here,
My name is I AM."
Incidentally, I played poorly for the first part of that baseball season because I couldn’t get that image of being blasted in the eye out my head. It took some serious soul-searching, but I finally forced myself to stay in the batters box one game about halfway through our schedule. And wouldn’t you know it? I went 3-4 that game two doubles and three RBIs. But it wasn’t until I convinced myself the past didn’t have to be the future that I was able to play up to my capabilities.