You Don’t Have to Be Your History

During the last month, I read Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, a wonderful biography by Brad Gooch,. Flannery.jpeg

In the book, Gooch tells the story of O’Connor’s friendship with Betty Hester. For nine years, they corresponded by letter. In these letters they discussed matters of theology, philosophy, and the content of the various books they were reading.

At one point in their friendship, Hester revealed to O’Connor the details of what she called her “history of horror.” She had a very painful childhood. Her father abandoned the family when she was very young. When she was thirteen years old, she witnessed the suicide of her mother. Neighbors, believing that her mother was playing a joke, refused to call the police. Later, she joined the army, only to then be dishonorably discharged for her sexual behavior.

O’Connor’s response to Hester is classic:

“Where you are wrong is in saying that you are a history of horror. The meaning of the Redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history.” (p. 282)


Now I like that.

Far too many people underestimate the power of God’s redemption to change their stories. Consequently they believe their history has doomed them and forever tarnished them.

You can often see it in our eyes. They have experienced failure and consequently seem to think they will forever be among the ranks of those who are losers. I have heard these statements in 32 years of ministry with churches:

  • “Look at me! I am so messed up! Obese. Addicted. Self-medicated. I am an anxious mess.”
  • “You can’t tell me there is hope. I’ve messed up every relationship I’ve ever been in. If you don’t want your life messed up, stay away from me!”
  • “God is punishing me for the abortion I had while in high school. I know he is!”
  • “How will I ever be able to look my parents in the eye after what I’ve done?”
  • “I would die if my children or wife knew my secret. I’m so ashamed.”
  • “There is so much mess and dysfunction in my family. Will my marriage be this way? Will I mess up my children?”

Yet, O’Connor is right: “The meaning of the Redemption is precisely that we do not have to be our history.”

As Christ-followers, who are experiencing the Redemption of God, our identity does not come from our history. Nor does our identity come from our behavior, whether it has been good or shoddy. Nor does our identity determined by how many problems we have in our past. We don’t have to be our history.

Redemption means that my most shameful moment does not define me.

What defines me and what shapes my identity is Jesus. There is nothing in my past that he is unable to overcome. There is no failure that he is not willing to forgive.


Why are we often tempted to believe that our history defines us?


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

5 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Be Your History

  1. Jim,

    Our own self-talk, in the hands of the evil one, can lead us to be self-defeating, or as others would say…self-fulfilling prophecy. However, what you share is, in many respects, the definition of hope. As it has been said, we are the accumulation of our experiences, both good and bad. If we turn all of these over to the Lord and allow Him to work in and through them to be a blessing, what marvelous things he is able to do in and through us. This worked out quite well for many of God’s leaders in the Old and New Testaments, particularly as we see them work through their own struggles to better be God’s people.


    • Don, I really like your first sentence. You are right, this is our own self-talk, guided by the hands of the evil one.

  2. I think it’s because we’ve bought Satan’s lie which really hasn’t changed much since the garden. It’s usually some variation of “God doesn’t want you to be like Him”, thus if God is perfect, holy, etc., our worst sins, mistakes and blunders MUST separate us from Him and so we cannot be holy as He is holy. At least that’s the lie that I think we buy and that keeps us believing that we are our past or our worst failings versus being created in the image and likeness of a most Holy God.

    • You express this well, Pat. Somewhere in this kind of thinking, what Jesus did on the cross/resurrection is lost or at best minimized.