“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” – Romans 3:23
Young adults running around parking lots, awkward first roommate pictures, parents crying (some tears of sadness, others tears of joy), boxes, cars, keys, furniture, bedding, chaos – Oh, nothing can quite be compared to moving into a freshman dorm room. I still remember the disorder, love, and nervousness of that day. I remember having so many dreams of who I was going to be, what I was going to do, and who I was going to surround myself with. The next four years were going to be mine to create and I was so excited to see what the Lord had in store for me. This small town girl was ready to see what she was made of. That day, as my family drove away and I felt the fear and excitement of my newfound freedom, a simple thought came to my mind – “Hey Caitlyn… You need to unpack.”
Today, sweet friends, I’m going to get real – life is too short to pretend to be perfect, after all. Freshman Caitlyn had huge dreams. She had passions and ideas and couldn’t wait to get to college and chase after them all. She wanted to run forward with everything she had on that first day in her new home, but she just knew that she couldn’t yet – not without unpacking her stuff.
There was something about unpacking all the things she brought from home – the clothes, the pictures, the books, the decorations – that made it easier to move forward into her new life. How different her first year of school would have been had she just let all of her stuff stay in boxes all year – no proof of where she had been or what had made her who she was.
We would never think about keeping all of our stuff packed away for good after a big move, would we?
Why, then, do we leave parts of our spiritual journey – our story – unpacked? Why do we leave our pasts boxed up behind us, never to be touched again?
For a long time I thought that receiving the Lord’s forgiveness meant that I shouldn’t think about where I’ve been or about the dark, dormant times in my life when I was distant from God. I thought that if I just tried to forget about – and detach myself from – my past, it would slowly fade away.
But it didn’t. Instead, it crept up on me when I would least expect it. The enemy used my past to mess with my spirit and my mind. He held it in front of my face and told me over and over again that I would never be able to completely walk away from it.
What do we know about the enemy, though?
Knowing that truth didn’t stop his voice in my head, though, until a different voice – the sweet, tender, perfect voice of my Savior – whispered something different to my soul:
“Hey Caitlyn… You need to unpack.”
But unpack what, Lord? What is there left to unpack? I’ve left the old me behind. I’ve changed into a new creation. What else is there to do?
“Unpack your baggage, Caitlyn.”
So I’ve spent some time unpacking my junk, and I wanted to share with you a few things the Lord has shown me about how to engage in the beautiful process of unpacking.
Before I dive into this topic, though, I want to make one thing very clear:
Jesus Christ died on the cross for YOUR sins – to forgive YOUR past, present, and future mistakes.
You are forgiven. This is not something you earned or something that can be taken away from you. It is a gift given to you freely and abundantly by your Heavenly Father.
“He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.” – Ephesians 1:7
“We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.” – Romans 3:22
No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you are made right with God by placing your faith in Jesus Christ, who has forgiven you. I encourage you to unpack your past, but be careful not to dwell on it. You serve a God who has washed you clean, free of guilt and shame for all of eternity. Never forget that.
With that being said, here are the steps I recommend for anyone who is in serious need of unpacking and moving past their past. The Lord has helped me through these steps and I pray that He would help you in the same way:
- Open the suitcase.
Sit down quietly with just yourself and God and open all your baggage. Open the past, the mistakes, the pain, the joy, the sorrow, the laughter, and the tears. I know that this may hurt, but think about whatever that situation is that you just can’t let go of. Open it up and expose it to yourself and the Lord. I wrote all of mine down (writing is so therapeutic for me), but even just speaking your past out loud to God will help you clean and clear some of the dusty corners of your soul.
- Sort through the baggage.
You will have clean laundry in your suitcase, but you will also have dirty laundry in your suitcase. After writing down or thinking about your past, begin to sort through that laundry. Some of it was good and some of it was bad. God’s word encourages us to be prudent – to understand that our future and past are interconnected.
“The prudent understand where they are going, but fools deceive themselves.” – Proverbs 14:8
As Andy Stanley (one of my favorite speakers) said in one of his podcasts, “The best way to tell where a person is going is to look at where they’ve been.” It’s so true. If you want to be prudent and truly learn from your past, you have to sort through it – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- Wash the dirty clothes.
Stop criticizing yourself. If you are anything like me, then that’s what you are tempted to do at this point. Remember, though, that you are forgiven – washed clean of every past decision. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want to use your dirty laundry, though. God wants to expose your past so that He can show the world what He has brought you through. He wants to use your pain for HIS glory. As you sit still with the Lord, ask Him to show you the lessons He wants to teach you from your past. Write them down. Find scriptures to back them up. Here are a few of the many things He showed me during my time of washing my dirty laundry:
- A relationship with God is the only relationship that will bring pure joy to my spirit.
- No one is perfect, and neither am I. I must find my joy in my perfect Savior, not imperfect people.
- There is no joy in being selfish.
- Never lose faith, even when things seem to be going great.
- Prayer and obedience are both so powerful.
- Be accepting of other’s pasts and mistakes. We are all on this ride together, and the Lord is FOR us ALL.
- Run after God before anything else and He will make your paths straight.
- Sometimes feelings are different from the truth. Always lean on God’s truth before your own feelings.
- Don’t compromise your beliefs because the world tells you it is okay. Look to God for truth instead of listening to the lies of the world.
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” – Romans 5:3-5
The trials you have faced are building endurance, strength of character, and a confidence in your salvation. God wants to use your past to better your future and the futures of others. Allow him to cleanse your spirit, so that He can use your entire story to bring glory to His name.
- Put the suitcase away.
Now that everything is unpacked and clean, it’s time to put the suitcase away. Put away the guilt and shame of your past and rinse yourself with God’s incredible forgiveness. It’s time to stop letting your past chain you down. There is freedom in surrendering it all to God. Rest in that freedom today, and run with your newfound endurance and life-lessons down the path the Lord is setting before you.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” – Hebrews 12:1-2
Had I not unpacked my luggage freshman year, I wouldn’t have been able to truly live in my new college home. Unpack your baggage, brothers and sisters, so that you can start living the abundant life that your forgiving Father promises you. He wants to use you and the lessons you have learned to bring glory to His kingdom. He wants to use your entire heart and your entire story in order to show the world His incredible power.
But first, maybe you need to unpack – I know I needed to.