What Your Past Says About You Today

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My son was working on an art project one day, and I walked over to look at his progress. “Hey, Buddy, don’t push down so hard with your pencil. Remember what your teacher told you? You’ll end up with ghost lines.”

He sighed. “I know.” Picking up his eraser, he scratched furiously at the lines. But they were still there. My son learned in art class that when you are drawing in pencil, it is important to sketch lightly because if you need to erase something, you won’t have ghost lines. But if you push down when you draw, no matter how hard you try to erase it, there will be a faint line showing what was once there.

Lines in Us

My life is filled with ghost lines. Most days, when I glance at the portrait of my life, I don’t notice them. But sometimes I am forced to step in close, like when something triggers a memory. Many of these memories, though redeemed through Christ’s work in my life, still reveal ghost lines scratched onto the canvas of my life. In fact, the closer I look, the more lines I see.

Times when I’ve been rejected by friends.
Losses I’ve experienced.
Sins I’ve committed.
People I’ve hurt and people who have hurt me.
Dreams that have been dashed. Wrong paths I’ve taken.

I’m not alone. We all have ghost lines on our canvases. Things from our past that we’ve done, things that were done to us, hard things we’ve experienced — all etched into our memories. Time marches on, and the lines fade, but they’re still there. There may have been redemption, forgiveness, rescue, healing, and new life, but the evidence remains of what once was. For those whose lines run deep, pressed deep into the fabric of our stories, it’s a constant battle to fight for joy in the present because we still feel the pain of the past.

So how do we live with lines like these? How do we look at the beauty of the portrait God is painting, without being distracted by those glaring ghost lines?

Living with Painful Longings

Our lines are part of what it means to live in the “already / not yet” of God’s redemptive story. We’ve already been freed from the power of sin, yet the presence of sin still remains. We are already saved citizens of heaven, yet we still live in a sin-stained world. The war has already been won, but there are still battles left to be fought. We have forgiven others who have wronged us, but painful, unwanted memories still linger. This is why we cry, “How long, O Lord!” and, “Maranatha! Come quickly!” Even perfected martyrs in heaven ask when their blood will be avenged (Revelation 6:10). The earth itself groans in anticipation as it waits for the day when redemption and restoration will be fully and finally complete (Romans 8:22–23).

While I wait and live with my ghost lines, I take great hope as I remember that my Savior has lines of his own. They mark the places on his hands, feet, and side where he bore the punishment for our sins, our failures, our regrets. These marks are carved into his resurrection body, the human body he took into heaven, the body we will one day see face to face. He has chosen for all eternity to live with these scars, ghost lines of his love, mercy, and grace.

Good News in Ghost Lines

Ghost lines tell stories. And one important story they tell is that things in my life have changed. The shadows of lines from my past remind me of how far my Lord has brought me. The fact that they are only shadows shows me that he is in the process of redeeming all things, even the hardest, most painful things. They also remind me that he has been with me all along. They are marks of his glory and grace, tracing for me the ways he has carried me, saved me, rescued me, and forgiven me. Like Paul, I can look back at the stories these lines tell and see how Christ has been my strength in weakness. I can show my canvas to others, point out the lines, and boast in what he has done.

My ghost lines also reveal to me that God is an Artist, intimately involved in the masterpiece of my life, creating something amazing, despite my childlike scrawls and scratches. As I watch it take shape over the years, I can see a transformation taking place. I cling to the promise that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

On that day, we will all stand in the galleries of heaven and see all of God’s finished work. What a thrill that will be! The portraits will all be complete. They will be perfect, no longer marred by sin and shame, and we will celebrate forever what the Master Artist has made.