My childhood was in some ways the typical experience of a boy growing up in the 1970s, but it was far from normal. My mother suffered the lasting effects from a car accident she was in when she was fourteen. After emerging from a three-month- long coma, Mom was left with deep physical, emotional, and mental challenges. Those challenges showed up in our little house on Victory Road in Mishawaka, Indiana, in some horrific ways.
At nearly fifty years of age, I have learned along my journey with Christ about letting God redeem my childhood. Actually, I have learned much about God redeeming any wound from the past. It’s been a joy to watch Him use the story I shared in my memoir, All But Normal: Life on Victory Road. God is using my story to help others grapple with their own wounds. Only He can take such a broken story and use it to bring beauty in the lives of others.
My story is not unlike that of the Old Testament character Joseph. Twenty-two years after the betrayal of his brothers, Joseph saw God do something great as they came to Egypt for help during a severe famine. Even though they had betrayed him and sold him into slavery when he was seventeen, Joseph forgave his brothers. He wept many times over them and the brokenness of the past. As a grown man, decades later the old wounds still hurt him. But he watched as God redeemed his childhood.
How do you position yourself so that God can redeem the wounds of the past—even those from your childhood? Let me suggest five things Joseph did that you and I can do as well.
#1: Identify the Abnormalities—Even though you want to overlook them (Genesis 45:1-4)
I love that Joseph clearly points out how his brothers wounded him when he meets them twenty- two years later. Sometimes we want to act like nothing happened. We want to pretend there are no wounds. We sweep things under the rug and move on. Joseph teaches us that it is important to be honest with ourselves and others about the abnormalities of our past. It’s the starting point to healing.
#2: Acknowledge the Pain—Even though you want to forget it (Genesis 46:29)
When Joseph is reunited with his father after more than two decades, he cries for a very long time. The pus of the wound comes out in tears. I am sure there were tears of joy at seeing his father, but it had been a long time, and a lot of pain had occurred. It’s okay and even healthy to let God know it hurts. Acknowledge the pain. As some of us sort through the pain, we may even need to seek out some counseling to process it.
#3: Release the Bitterness—Even though you want to hold on to it (Genesis 45:5 & 50:15-17)Someone once said, “To hold a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Joseph refuses to drink the poison. He extends to his brothers a grace they have never extended to him. Two decades after they wound him deeply, he rejects any notion of revenge and shows them kindness. Ask God to refresh and renew your spirit. Remember the grace and forgiveness He has shown you. Release the bitterness that can only bring you trouble.
#4: Embrace the Sovereignty of God—Even though you want to explain it away (Genesis 45:7-8; 50:20)
We wrestle with the idea that evil can be within the scope of God’s sovereign plan. So we often explain away the sovereignty of God. While hard to comprehend as finite beings, God can use even the evil intentions and actions of others for our good and His glory. Joseph tells His brothers that what they did was wrong but that God had used it for good. He had endured slavery, false accusations, prison, and being forgotten by a friend, but Joseph was now in a position of influence in Egypt. Looking back, he could see God’s hand in it all. As you process the wounds of the past, remember that God can use the worst events and seasons of life to mold you and shape you into the image of Christ!
#5: Celebrate the Blessings—Even though you want to downplay them (Genesis 45:6-8; 50:20)
Joseph is able to celebrate with his father and brothers the incredible grace of God in His life. Even though the struggles of my childhood were at times overwhelming, I can now call them a blessing. Being able to celebrate the pain of our past as a blessing requires us to cultivate a thankful heart toward God. Thank Him for the purpose He is working—even when you can’t see it. Humble gratitude prompts deep celebration!
Process the wounds of your past the way Joseph did. Let God redeem your broken childhood or your painful past. Let Him work in and through you according to His grace. That is what Joseph did, and that is why he was able to embrace all that God was doing even through some very difficult stuff!
Don’t let Satan get the advantage with your past. Let God use it for your good, the good of others, and ultimately His glory!
Shawn Thornton serves as Senior Pastor of Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California. He is also the Bible teaching voice heard daily across America on the half-hour radio program, All Things New. Shawn has the honor of serving on the Board of Directors of Awana Clubs International and on the Board of Directors of the Joni & Friends Foundation. He blogs regularly at PastorShawn.com.
Shawn and his wife, Lesli, have three young adult children—Jon, Katie, and Megan. His new book, All But Normal (Tyndale, July) is available wherever books are sold.