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January 1, 1989


The comedian Henny Youngman tells about the time he was thrown out of an antique shop. "All I did," he said, "was walk in and ask, `What's new?'" This is the first day of a new year. We find ourselves looking ahead not only to 1989, but also to the future as we realize the twentieth century is on its last leg.

What's new with you? Or, are there too many antiques in your life? Will 1989 be a repeat of 1988? Can you make some fresh starts in 1989? Are you handling the past effectively, or is the past interfering with the present and the future?

If the past is not handled properly, its tentacles will reach into the present. Therapists help people untangle tentacles from the past. Unresolved feelings, grudges, hurts, anger can have devastating effects on your relationships with other people, and on your physical body. Tentacles can cause physical and emotional illness.

Our modern society does not handle the past well. We have a difficult time leaving one year behind, and going into the new. We carry lots of unnecessary antiques with us.

We have developed some very ineffective methods of dealing with the past. These methods are very popular, but not at all effective. When you've had an unpleasant experience:

1) don't try to forget it. Don't try to erase it from memory, for it cannot be done.

2) Don't pretend the unpleasant event never happened. Don't try to repress it. Don't try to push it down inside you, for down there it will rot and spoil. It will infect your life, physically and emotionally. You'll need strong antibiotics to kill the infection.

3) Don't wallow in the mud, rolling over and over in self-pity. Don't dwell on the experience, because wallowing will cause preoccupation, and you don't have time to waste on being preoccupied with something that is over and cannot be changed.

4) Don't fool yourself into thinking you can change the past. Once it is over, it is over. No amount of crying, wallowing, shame, or being sorry can change it.

Let me share with you a more effective method of dealing with the past, so you may enter 1989 with fewer antiques, and ask, "What's new?" Try this method and see if your life in 1989 is not happier and more successful. The method has five steps:

1) LEARN FROM THE PAST. Let the unpleasant event teach you. Let mistakes, as well as success, teach you. Let failures, as well as accomplishments, teach you. Calmly and unemotionally, be detached. Analyze and find the error. Discover what you might do differently next time.

2) REPENT. When you learn what you might do differently, then do it. Repent does not mean "forget, erase, pretend, or repress." Repent means to let go of what is ineffective. Let go of what is crippling you, and do what you have learned. Turn from the ineffective and begin doing the effective. You can't change the past. You can't forget or overlook the past, but you can change your actions so the past mistake is not repeated. You can make changes. That's the gospel. We believe in the Second Chance. In our lesson this morning, Paul said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

3) Where appropriate, MAKE RESTITUTION. I'm proud of my country for admitting it made a mistake when Japanese Americans were interred during World War II. I;m proud of our government for making restitution. Innocent persons lost businesses, farms, homes, possessions when they were herded into concentration camps. It is right that reparations be paid. It takes a big person, it takes a big nation, to say, "I was wrong. I made a mistake. I admit it."

If you have wronged someone, swallow your pride, and say, "I'm sorry." If you have been bullheaded and immovable, admit you are not always right and ask forgiveness. If you have hurt someone, make restitution. If you have cheated someone, repay.

4) ACCEPT WHAT YOU CANNOT CHANGE. You cannot change the past. No amount of ranting, raving, moaning, cursing, or bearing grudges can change the past, and there are many things in the present and future, you cannot change.

The Japanese are masters at accepting. They "go with the flow" and adapt quickly to situations. When I served in Japan as a short-term missionary teacher in a Methodist Boy's Junior and Senior High School in Nagoya, Japan, I accompanied the students on several school trips. On one trip, we were traveling by train and were approaching Mt. Fuji. I had yet to see Mt. Fuji because it is usually covered with clouds. On this trip, it was raining. I began complaining, "Why does it have to rain today! You would think just once it would be clear so I could see Mt. Fuji!" I muttered, stormed, moaned, complained, worked myself into agitation, and no doubt was an embarrassment to the boys. Finally one student spoke in simple English, "Teacher, the rain doesn't come from the ground up, but from the sky down, and we can't do anything about it!"

The Japanese have a word for accepting the unchangeable, SHIKATAGANAI. It means more than resignation, more than being resigned to the inevitable, more than fatalism. Shikataganai means to accept what is, and get on with your life. In our lesson this morning Paul gave us the philosophy of shikataganai:

"I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13)

I have learned to be content, testified Paul. I have learned how to accept. Shikataganai!

5) GIVE THE PAST TO GOD. Be content by giving it to God. Let it go. Turn it loose. Learn from the past, repent and make restitution, and then let it go. Give it to God. Give all grudges, complaints, resentments, self-pity to God. And then, praise God for the past. Give thanks. "Rejoice in the Lord, always," wrote Paul in Philippians 4:4.

That's the five-step method. Let's rehearse it. For example, you spill a glass of milk. Remember the adage, "Don't cry over spilled milk." Rather than cry, apply the SHIKATAGANAI method.

1) LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE. Don't put the glass of milk too near the edge of the table.

2) REPENT. Resolve not to put the glass near the edge anymore.

3) MAKE RESTITUTION. Don't expect anyone else to clean up your mess. Wipe up the milk. Pick up the pieces. If you are a guest, buy your host a new glass.

4) ACCEPT THE SITUATION. SHIKATAGANAI. It happened. No big deal. You can't pick up the milk and put back in the glass. You can't glue the pieces back together. Why get so upset? Why cry? Why complain, holler, and get so agitated? Shikataganai.

5) GIVE THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE TO GOD. Let it go. Give it to God, give thanks, and rejoice always.

Using this five-step method will launch you into 1989 going full speed, ready for, and anticipating WHAT'S NEW!

© 1989 Douglas I. Norris