Looking back, the past was a blur. It seemed to Bill Hart as if he had lived many lives. There was the trip in the ice truck from Kansas City to Tacoma. Three small children, a two year old boy, a girl 3, and another girl 4, a few blankets for warmth and to soften the ride on the hard wooden truck bed, and the proverbial pot, bumping along not comprehending that the trip was really a kidnapping by a revengeful grandmother. Other shadows, a motorcycle with a sidecar and three small children taking turns riding and then running to school and home. A knife slipping while cutting Christmas candy and piercing through the hand of a woman. Who was she? She was not their mother. What happened to their mother?
As soon as one life ended, another began. Foster homes, one after another. In one there was physical abuse at the hands of adults pretending love. The blue circle of wet paint on the wall just high enough for a small boy to put his nose in the middle while on tip toes. But if he tired and slipped it meant the razor strap. In another it was sexual abuse at the hands of the foster mother. In still another, sexual abuse at the hands of older children. Some say children forget. How can they? These shadows are like banshees wafting down through time searing the conscience.
Another life promised to bring those nightmares to an end. This one offered peace and joy, love, and belongingness. The first year was heaven. The farm was large. Bill had his own bedroom, his own clothes, his own little pig to raise. He did not have to share “Mom” and “Dad” with anybody. Of course he wanted to be adopted. Who would not? His ninth birthday was celebrated by his adoption into a new family with a new name.
But then the nightmares began all over again. First it was being pulled around by an ear until it bled. Then beatings with rolled up haywire, V-belts, pitchforks, anything at hand which suited the rage. The sexual abuse began again at the hands of neighbor boys. “What is wrong with me?” He thought. “What have I done to deserve this?”
This life faded into another and then another. Teenagers by nature blame themselves or project the blame unto others. The beatings intensified. The abuses became obsessions. The sins of the adopting parents became the sins of the adopted child. Alcohol abuse, violence, rage. “Is there anyone out there who cares?” “Is there anyone who can save me from these nightmares?” “Is there a God?” “Does He care?”
Bill’s new life in Christ began while in the Navy. Some missionaries witnessed to him and he accepted Christ as his savior. But this did not eradicate the shadows of past lives. It seemed that to be accepted and approved in this new life, Bill had to witness and memorize Scripture. Failure meant rejection, or so it seemed to Bill who had suffered rejection all his life. Still Bill began to grow spiritually.
Discharge from the Navy was followed by college, marriage, and seminary. Was it some mystical call of God into the pastoral ministry or was it a search for acceptance and approval? If it was the latter, Bill was headed in the wrong direction. Few men ever find acceptance and approval from the churches they pastor. After all, pastors are to heal the flock, not be healed by them. A man can work himself to death and still the carnal corral is going to find fault and cause problems.
It was while sitting in a Sunday School class listening to the teacher that Bill’s mind wandered to the text under discussion. “. . .you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:23-24 NAS) “You mean that by accepting Christ as my Savior, God has already changed me into someone who is righteous and holy like Himself?” “You mean that all I need to do is change my mind about myself and accept what God through Christ has already done?” These thoughts were so exhilarating they were almost painful to Bill. How could he have gone so long not knowing this truth? Why hadn’t someone explained it to him? How could he minister so long to others and not know this truth about himself? It was almost like new birth a second time.
Still the shrieking banshees of the past did not end their torment. This new truth, wonderful as it was, did not free Bill from the dark shadows of the past. True, they began to fade as he meditated on who he was in Christ. But they still lingered. What would destroy those shadows once and for all? Like many who suffer from similar experiences, it was hard for Bill to grasp new life in Christ in such a way that the past no longer haunted the present.
One day as Bill was listening to another Sunday School teacher expounding Romans 8, a phrase jumped off the page like the last one more than a decade before. In verse 27, God is referred to in the original Greek as “the Searcher of hearts.” There it is! For Bill, and for everyone who has lived through nightmares and are afflicted with lingering shadows, God knows the heart because He is the Searcher of hearts. He knows what is needed to end the nightmares and to shed light on the shadows in such a way that they are banished forever.
Bill began to study and meditate on what this meant. This verse immediately precedes one of the first verses he memorized thirty-six years before while trying to gain acceptance and approval from men. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NAS)
How ironic that the answer was so close and yet so far. Bill remembered trying to quote this verse at the bedside of a dear saint who suffered a sever stroke. The words welled up in his throat as he thought, “Do I really believe this myself?” Many, like Bill, spread this verse on like frosting on a cake, only the cake is baked with wormwood and gall, bitter unresolved memories from the past. Paul said that The Searcher of Hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because He, the Holy Spirit, intercedes in a manner consistent with who God is and what He desires for the saints.
When, as a two-year-old boy, Bill was bouncing along in the back of the ice truck, God was there searching the heart and causing all things to work out for good. Through every painful experience, every nightmare, the God who sent His Son to be the Light of the World, was searching the heart and working everything out according to His purpose. The shadows were shadows only in Bill’s imagination. They were never hidden from God. Those prayers Bill prayed as a teenager crying out not knowing about God’s existence and love were being heard and taken to heart by the God who searches the heart. His Spirit was interceding on Bill’s behalf.
No longer was Romans 8:28 theological frosting smeared over a cake of dark shadows and bitter memories. As Bill reflected on who he was in Christ and now realized that God always knew about the shadows and was always prepared to shed His light on them and dispel them, he felt the knots within him release for the first time. This was not some New Age exercise of visualization, seeking to change the past through mental effort. It was appropriating the reality of God with reference to both the past and the present. God’s salvation is not only from the past guilt of sin. It is also salvation from the pain of the past sins of others and from the pain of the memories of the past.
My given name at birth was William Gerald Hart. I am the Bill in the above article.