In this internet age, the past is never really past.
High school classmates we spent four years trying to escape, and haven't thought about since we tossed our graduation caps into the air, suddenly want to be our "friends." Intentionally long-lost relatives reassert their dysfunction over our newsfeeds. Old flames we thought had lost the power to unhinge us prove us wrong as sidebar spectres: People You Might Know. Social media limits our ability to leave people behind, and somehow, the people who come back always seem to be the people you most wish would not.
Or maybe it just feels that way to me today, while I ponder the reappearance of a person from my past. This wasn't the first time that he's dropped in on my web world, and in theory that's fine. If I'm not open to comment from anyone, I shouldn't post things publicly on the internet. In this particular case, I invited his return by writing about the phase of my life when he knew me. This wasn't the first time he judged my theology to be not truly Christian. It was, however, the first time he attacked me personally, telling his perspective of those years, observing that I was (and implied, still am) difficult, unteachable, divisive, dramatic, feisty, and ambitious. And so it wasn't just this person who loomed out of my past, it was also my college self.
For the record, I was (and sometimes, still am) all of those things. Because I am all of those things, I have about a million things to say about all the accusations he leveled at me. I want to defend my faith, my doctrine, my interpretation of Scripture. I want to defend difficult personalities; have you ever read the Bible?? I want to defend my twenty year-old self, new to faith and wrestling with God and with everyone around her to define her identity and calling.
All that defensiveness, all that desire to legitimize myself, all the emotion shaken to the surface by this person...I thought that was past. Caring that much about what anyone else thinks is a trait that belongs to a much younger me. Except, apparently it doesn't.
It turns out that it's not just the internet that bears our past back to us, although it generously gives our triggers another pathway to reach us. In some sense I am still all the phases of myself that I have been. The past is never really past.
So, today I write to gently push back the past and remember to be who I am now, past twenty. Thirty-five year-old me can read criticism, has read quite a bit of it, has dealt with a lot of disapproval and lived to tell the tale. Time hasn't done much to blunt my tendency toward sharp reactions, but it has given some perspective and the ability to step away, to accept what is true and discard what is untrue. The authenticity and accuracy of my faith is between God and me, and the congregation I serve and the classis to which I am amenable. My personality is, well, it's in progress. My past may not be past, but it doesn't rule my present.
And when the past pops up to bid me its less pleasant greetings, at least it's clear that I'm not the only one for whom the past is not really past.