When the past catches up with you

A lot of our issues lie in the interpersonal domain. Relationships shape all of us, including the way we relate to ourselves and to God.

20 SEPTEMBER 2020 · 15:00 CET

Photo: <a target="_blank" href="https://unsplash.com/@mattisrad">Matt Heaton</a>, Unsplash, CC0,
Photo: Matt Heaton, Unsplash, CC0

This is the first in a series of three articles about personal discoveries I’m making this year. The others are about the delights of written prayers and a healthy relationship with technology.


For the last two decades, I thought very little about the past. My mind preferred dwelling, instead, on the future: imagining new scenarios, creating content, and strategizing ways to make an impact on the world.

My past, for me, was like a fog. “Why lose time thinking about my childhood and adolescence?” I used to think. I didn’t have much awareness about my upbringing or family of origin; I imagined that I should just be grateful for it, not dwell on the hurts, and move on.

It’s an attitude that served me well as a young adult. I was able to launch into life, marry, form a family, live in foreign countries, and give birth to a church – all of which I deeply love.

Recently, however, the past started to catch up with me. I became aware of patterns of thought and behavior I inherited from my family of origin or from my sharp differentiation from my parents. Some of these patterns I wanted to continue. The ones I wanted to adjust, however, left me befuddled. It seemed like no amount of reading, reflection, and repentance were able to change them.

This summer, I read three books that gave me a handle on my sense of being stuck, shifted my thinking, and helped me gain more awareness about how my past shaped me: Pete Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader, Jenny Brown’s Growing Yourself Up, and Ronald Richardson’s Family Ties that Bind.

These three books challenged me to reflect on the ways I function. Scazzero questions a superficial evangelical spirituality and invites the readers into a deep inner life with God. Brown and Richardson expound on insights from Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, an area of psychology that analyzes a person by their past and present relations.

Each person will find applications relevant to his or her own life, but here are some of the insights that have been most helpful to me:

- I can’t expect present relationships or work accomplishments to heal wounds from my infancy.

- Don’t blame others or play the victim but take responsibility for your reactions.

- My adult relationships to my wife, kids, and colleagues do not substitute close relationships with my parents, siblings, and relatives, which I want to more intentionally nurture.

- A support network of friends and mentors who pour into my life will keep me relationally balanced as I pour into the lives of others.

The key shift for me was thinking of myself in terms of the webs of relationships that formed me and that I currently inhabit. As a task-oriented person, I used to think mostly about ideas, plans, and responsibilities – from an individual perspective. Now I realize that a lot of our issues lie in the interpersonal domain. Relationships shape all of us, including the way we relate to ourselves and to God.

This journey of reflection is still going on. Nevertheless, the steps I’ve been able to take thus far have made me feel like I’m starting to stand, whereas before I felt I was defeated by a force I could not identify. I feel more conscientious about my relationships, more compassionate and forgiving toward others, and freer overall. It’s as if some inner space has cleared up, and it has been a joy to since fill this space with delightful moments with God, as I’ll describe next week.

René Breuel, pastor of an evangelical church in Rome.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - Culture Making - When the past catches up with you