Nobody wants to admit that they have baggage, but let’s face it…we all do. Whether we like it or not, our minds and our souls recall almost everything, especially the most difficult memories that we try so hard to forget. Even if we are able to genuinely forgive ourselves or others for past transgressions, that doesn’t mean we will forget them. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that we’ve buried some awful memory, only to have it unearthed when we find ourselves in a situation that reeks of some circumstance of the past. When memories are positive and beautiful, we cherish them, but when they are painful or difficult, we try hard to forget them before they turn into baggage. Most of the time we can’t forget, no matter how hard we try. So the question is this: how do we keep our memories from turning into baggage?
To be honest, this is something I’ve been struggling with and frankly, I don’t think I have all the answers. But I do want to share what I’ve learned. First let me share my baggage: I have trust issues. Not only did my marriage end due to numerous grave violations of my trust, but in the months following my divorce, I also discovered that some of my so-called “friends” were disloyal to me. Add to that the numerous people around me whose marriages have crumbled since then and the handful of people who have recently told me about their involvement in extramarital affairs, and well, let’s just say things were looking pretty bleak for awhile. It was the perfect storm, and in it my belief in true love and loyalty almost evaporated. Every time I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to let the past turn me into a cynic, someone else added to the heaping pile of distrust that kept getting in my way.
I went on like this for too long, feeling frustrated in every relationship and friendship I had. I worried about everyone’s intentions, assuming that every man I dated would cheat and lie and that every friend I trusted would eventually take advantage of me or betray me. The trouble is that some of my fears were confirmed, and this only perpetuated the cycle. The more people who disappointed me, the more suspicious I became of everyone else. My circle has gotten quite small since then, and I have actually worried that I was too quick to dismiss some people. But then I realized that none of them have tried to get me back, and that tells me that I made the right choice. If anyone is willing to let go that easily, then I probably made the right choice.
So how did I overcome my baggage? Truth be told, I don’t think I have…yet. But I did learn some things that have begun to change my attitude:
1. Take responsibility – I had to make sure that I had truly forgiven the people who had hurt me. It’s easy to say we forgive someone, but it’s much more difficult to genuinely practice forgiveness. I had to identify the people who had truly hurt me and make sure I could pray for them in the same way I pray for the people I love. If I couldn’t, I knew that I was still harboring some unforgiveness that I had to deal with.
2. Treat everyone as an individual and every situation as unique – it’s easy to make generalizations, but there are always exceptions. If we let our baggage do the talking, we will end up writing off good people right off the bat simply because they say or do something that brings us back to a dark place. When we do this, we miss out on the joy of actually getting to know that person as an individual. The fact is that no two people are the same. We all have hundreds of characteristics that make us unique and special, and this is why generalizations are typically wrong. Not every man cheats. Not every woman is an emotional wreck. Not every Latino is crazy jealous. Not every Christian is judgmental. Not every Muslim is a fundamentalist. Not every blonde is dumb. You get the point.
3. Don’t let your fear be bigger than your faith – for a while I was so afraid to lose anyone else that I held on to relationships after I knew they were toxic, simply because I was scared to find myself alone. I let fear run my life and put my faith in the backseat. I only began to feel peace when I realized that I needed to walk in faith. Instead of clinging so desperately to the things and people I thought I needed, I gave it to God. I started to pray for His will instead of my own. I finally just let go, and it made an enormous difference in the quality of my life.
4. Be intentional about your relationships – if you have people in your life who love you in spite of your baggage and any other flaws, hold on tight. Be intentional. Show them love and accept the love they offer to you. Don’t just let the relationship sit there and get stale. Like a garden, you must take the time to water it and pull the weeds if you want to watch it grow. If you increase the number of positive relationships and happy people in your life, your baggage will start to unpack itself.
I know there’s a lot more to learn, but this has been a good start for me. It’s been difficult to lose so much, but I think of myself as a glass that was half-full of dirty water before. I could just fill up the rest of the glass with clean water, but the dirt that was already there would taint it. The more dirty water I can dump out, the more room I have for fresh, clean, life-giving water, and that’s what I want.