“We’re not going anywhere until you clean up this mess!”
At some point in your life, you’ve surely been on one end or the other of that statement. You may remember the frustration you felt when you heard it as a child. You were ready to go! That new toy was calling you and your birthday money was burning a hole in your pocket. Or the new Star Wars movie was starting in an hour and you were desperate to get good seats for the show.
But you were punched in the gut by the merciless reality of responsibility, and all of your excitement was stymied. No matter how badly you wanted to go, there was something you didn’t want to do that you had to do before you could leave.
If you’re a parent and your kids are old enough, you’ve probably been on the other side too. It’s not that you wanted to be cruel or keep your children from what they wanted, but you knew that you had an obligation to move them toward maturity. You knew you had to teach them “work first, play later” as an important life lesson. And so you finally did one of the things you swore as a child to never do to your own children when you had them: you spoke those dreaded words and made them put business before pleasure.
It’s a valuable life lesson still. As we think about newness and resolutions and changing for the better, it’s always with the goal of moving forward to where we want to be. We hope for and envision progress in our lives. We see ourselves somewhere other than we are right now. And that’s great—you should have goals and dreams.
But if you find that you’ve had the same ones for a while and, despite all of your efforts, you’re no closer to them than you were when you first had the dream, it might be time to look at what’s really holding you back.
We love our children enough to help them grow before we let them go. So does God. As our Father, He loves us so much that He will impede our progress until we deal with the mess we’ve made.
Sometimes the only path forward lies behind you.
I think Jacob is a great example. He had found the wife he wanted (and even one he didn’t want). He had been blessed with a great household of children and servants. His wealth in flocks and herds was tremendous. But one day, God got in his way. As Jacob tried to catch up to his family, a “man” blocked his path and a fight ensued, one that lasted through the night.
There are many layers of meaning to this very significant episode in Jacob’s life, but one thing we can take away from it is that before Jacob could truly move forward into the fullness of his life, he had to deal with the mess he had left behind. See, some years earlier, he had lied to his father and cheated his brother out of his inheritance. With Esau threatening his life, Jacob ran away. He started a good life for himself, but eventually he had to go back home and face the music. (Thankfully, time had healed the wounds, and Esau was just happy to have his brother back!)
So, who’s your Esau? Who’s the person that you need to make amends with? What’s the thing that you know you needed to apologize for…but you just never did? What’s the situation that you left wrong that you need to make right? What debt of restitution do you owe for what you damaged or destroyed?
We can put on our blinders and act like these situations are behind us, but in a very real spiritual sense, they’re still right in front of us, impeding our progress until we deal with them.
You can make all the resolutions in the world, but if there’s a self-built barrier between you and your blessing, you’re going to have to take it down in order to get where you’re trying to go.
It’s really easy to turn a blind eye to the destruction in your wake. It’s easy to come up with justifications for why you did what you did and why you don’t have to do anything about it. But the scripture still says that we reap what we sow. If you really want the best God has for you, you’re going to have to find the courage to clean up what you messed up.
It may mean delaying your gratification for a while as you work to pay off what you owe.
It may mean mustering the strength of humility to call someone you swore you’d never talk to again.
It may mean standing up, choking down your pride, and admitting you were wrong.
As a kid, when mom or dad pressed pause on your party, it was extremely frustrating. But still, no matter how you fought against the “unfairness” of it, the situation didn’t change. If you wanted to leave, you had to clear the table or clean your room or straighten up the den. And you knew instinctively that the sooner you did it, the sooner you could go.
If you find yourself stuck, it’s up to you—you can keep spinning your wheels trying to go forward to no avail or you can back it up and fix what’s wrong so you can finally start to move.
Sometimes in order to succeed, the last thing you want to do is the first thing you need to do.
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