The weight of papers past

Some people are good at throwing things away. I’m not (though I’ve gotten much better with practice). You never know when something will be useful. Anyway, I was heading into a master’s degree before I finally managed to throw out my middle school papers, work, and notes that I had kept. There is just so much precious in them—at least, deeply precious to me. They speak to a past, a pattern of growth, work, and effort. They were precious. At least, precious in the sense of I would rather keep them around in a drawer in the dresser at my parent’s house that I didn’t live in and, even whilst visiting, hardly ever looked into. But keeping them there rather than throwing them away was important.

Which is one of the funny things about our pasts. They are dear to us, but often, the weight of the past is a lot like clutter which hampers life in the now.

In successive bouts of de-cluttering throughout the years, I have succeeded in throwing away (or recycling 😊) all of my former middle school, high school, undergraduate, as well as graduate school materials and assignments, except for a carefully curated few.

What ultimately got me around to throwing away/recycling? The past weighed too much.

The weight of the past

Papers are heavy

First, quite literally the past was too heavy to keep carrying around each time we moved. When you have to carry each and every box of papers from the past downstairs, into a truck, out of the truck, and upstairs into a new house, the weight of the past becomes far less precious.

Identities are heavier

Second, and more metaphorically, I found over time that holding on to so much of the past can be a burdensome weight in understanding who I am and what I am trying to be in the present. It has been fun to periodically poke about in my middle school essays, review my chemistry notes from high school, or look at water resources engineering problems from college. But these all bear very little connection to my life now. They are testimonies of what I once could do well, bu­­­t no longer remember much about and no longer have any need to do. Holding on to them was holding on to an idea of who I am and what I should be able to do that is no longer true or necessary.

Yes, I once could do advanced mathematics and all kinds of cool stuff in chemistry. But outside of a brief stint in tutoring math and a few lucky times in substitute teaching, I haven’t done any of that stuff in more than a decade. Maybe this is just me, but I’ve found that holding on to these testaments of past ability puts a pressure on my life to still be able to do what I used to.

So, over the years I have progressively pruned, with increasing ruthlessness, my stash of precious papers from the past. Now the stacks and piles are a mere couple folders.

Next thoughts

I’m sure you can tell a similar story with your own possessions. The experience of pruning things from the past is a helpful analogy to talking about change at church as we think through our current Church Health Assessment. In working through my precious papers which tied me to the past, there are three important principles I’ve come to appreciate about how I need to relate to the past: (1) honor the past, (2) live in the present, and (3) face the future.

Coming shortly, we’ll think a little together about how these principles relate to various ways the church relates to the past. As we process, discuss, and debate aspects of our recent Church Health Assessment, we will certainly need wisdom to figure out what in our past should remain our present, how we can honor the past, how we can face the future, and how we can do all these things without being weighed down.

Lord, help us.­­­