When I was in elementary school I lost a mitten. That may not sound like a big deal to you. But here’s how it happened—I was walking home from school and one of my mittens fell off.
And that’s it.
When I got home my mother asked me, “What happened to your mitten?” And I replied, “It fell off.” And for the life of me I couldn’t explain why I didn’t go back and pick it up. I had no justifiable reason for just leaving it there and walking on. I guess it didn’t seem like that big a deal to me.
But here’s the thing—that story seemed to define me for many years. I can remember not too long ago a member my family mentioned that story as an example of what a space cadet I was growing up. And believe me, I was. Forgetful…absent-minded…scatterbrained…and some fourth word I was going to use but I can’t remember.
But here’s another thing—in response to my absent-mindedness I have, especially in my adult years, sought tools and methods to help with my natural inclination to woolgathering (it’s a real word–look it up). I’ve found some that work well, others that work somewhat OK, and unless I am suffering from an extreme bout of sleeplessness they serve me pretty well. And so it bugs me when examples of “scatterbrained me” are thrown out and assumed to be the norm. In fact, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves. When it happens I want to jump up and scream, “CAN’T YOU SEE I’M NOT THAT SAME PERSON? HAVE NONE OF THE CHANGES I’VE PURSUED BEEN NOTICED AT ALL? I AM NOT THAT SAME KID WALKING HOME WITH ONLY ONE MITTEN!!!!!”
It’s pride, I know. But underneath the vanity attacks there is a deeper truth I find myself thinking about a lot—the fact that we often fail to appreciate transformation and how precious and delicate it is. The reason things like this push a button in me is that I am seeking to grow as a person, a Christian and a pastor, and when someone uses what I consider to be “outdated” descriptions of me it feels as though I’m frozen in time—and I begin to doubt the reality of some significant changes which God is working in me. And this goes deeper than mere absent-mindedness: it hits on some of my deepest failures and my hope that they become more about transition than definition.
This may seem a self-centered post and topic, but let me share with you where this ultimately leads me these days, and how it’s exposing an ugliness in me that still needs a transforming touch. Because just as I desire to never be “frozen in time,” I need to acknowledge that at times I am the freezer instead of the frozen. There are times when I fail to see and appreciate God’s transforming work in others and continue to define them by experiences and seasons that do not define them any more than I am defined by a dropped mitten.
The biggest example for me is when I consider those who have hurt me in the past. When these faces and situations come to mind my tendency is to assume that nothing has changed since—even though many of them happened decades ago. I still define these people and groups by injuries that have long since healed, but I treat as though they are still fresh. If I desire people to acknowledge God’s transforming work in me, shouldn’t I extend the same grace and courtesy to others? If I am no longer the same person I was, can’t I accept the truth that the same power at work in me is in work in the lives of others? Why do I do them the injurious disservice of causing them to be frozen in time? And in what ways does my insistence on that hinder the further work of God in their lives?
In the next couple of weeks we’re starting a sermon series on transformation at our church. And I find myself wondering what kind of thawing work God might be up to in that for me. Should be interesting.