What causes déjà vu? I don’t know. And it appears that scientists don’t either. Most would agree that déjà vu is a memory illusion, but the reason that the two frontal lobes try to correct inaccurate memories by creating this “I’ve been here before” feeling, isn’t quite clear.

As perplexing as it is, more than 60 percent of us experience occasional déjà vu, according to recent studies.

I beg to differ.

I’m not a scientist, but I’d say that, albeit not in the literal sense, every single one of us experiences a regular déjà vu in our lives.

  • We return to an environment that elicits panic from past memories
  • We meet someone we knew during a different stage of life
  • We find clothing or a trinket that’s tied to a past experience
  • We open a book or hear a song that brings us back to a unique season of life

In short, we all have moments when we’re smacked with a confusing reality and we think: I’ve been here before… I’ve been in this song, or in this nightmare, or at this location before.

I’ve been here.

And while many of these flashbacks are nostalgic and fun (like cranking up that early 2000s music to relive my childhood summers), other flashbacks shriek like mental siren in our brains. I’ve been here before. I’ve been here. I’m falling.

What do we do then?

Fear of the Past

Fear of the future is a tough enough bear to battle. But combine a fear of the future with a fear of the past (or rather: your own past actions), and you’ve got an anxiety-inducing spiral.

It’s one I’ve found myself in quite frequently, as of late; particularly as it pertains to my own sin. Whether it’s in my battle with anorexia, my relationship with my husband, or a number of my other focuses: I see many ways in which I am falling short.

Think for just a minute (we won’t dwell here long, I promise): Are there areas of your life in which you constantly are hitting the wall and repeating the same old patterns? Is there a way that past shame continues to creep into your present, dragging your hope and your eyes downward?

This view from a 2021 Sedona hike reminds me how scary it can be when we look down!

That is the type of déjà vu moment I’m referencing: the one that elicits the possibility (real or imagined) of regressing to a scary place in your life.

Freed from the Law of Sin and Death

You aren’t alone. In fact, so many of us share this struggle that the apostle Paul spoke of it at length in many of his letters. In writing to the church in Rome, he encouraged the believers that nothing could separate them from Christ, but he started by pointing out the difference between the Law of the Spirit of Life and the Law of Sin and Death.

In summary: Paul told these men and women that they couldn’t earn salvation, but that (thanks be to God!), salvation had been paid for by the blood of Christ. In a grand finale (one that must have led to great cheers), Paul explained that this gift of salvation meant that the those who trust in Christ cannot be separated from their Savior. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” he asked.

“Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Rom. 8:38-39)

Manmade Rules & Fear Go Hand-in-Hand

One of the saddest realities of my sin struggles is that I’ve been a slave to rules for many years. So, when I read Paul’s words in Romans 8, I feel like he gets me on a personal level. I can resonate with both the hopelessness of and the affinity for the countless rules…. Just like the Roman believers, we need to know that righteousness comes by grace through faith—not from a strictly-adhered-to rule book of my own making. After all, as much as we try to adhere to rules, we can’t keep up for long. You and I can’t live in perfect righteousness.

So, why does that matter? It matters because He did.

When you couldn’t find the solution, He could. When you couldn’t solve the problem, He could. When you couldn’t do enough to make up for all the screwups you’d made, He could.

And He did.

In other words: Jesus freed all who trust in Him from a life of rules or a fear of rules. We don’t earn His love or forgiveness. His mercy is a FREE gift.

Here’s the thing though: we forget that.

Fighting FROM Victory

We forget and start living in fear. We shroud ourselves in shame we weren’t meant to bear, under the guise of reverent “awareness.” We turn our eyes from the spotless Lamb and turn to fear. Fear of where we are or where we’ve been; fear of returning to a place mental or sinful anguish. We fear what could become if we don’t meet our own religious standards and keep our act together.

It’s something that, as I said, I’ve wrestled with a lot lately. Because, as much as we coddle our manmade rules that God (and Paul) warn us are futile, we loathe them all the same.

I see comfort in my rulebook, but I also see pain. Why? Because each standard I fail lands like a brick on my heart… grinding shards of clay into me with a poisonous whisper: You’ve been here before.

The shrapnel of this message’s implication , however, is far worse than it’s words. To you and I both, that failure is truly saying: You’re not getting better.

“I’ve been here before” really means “I’m stuck.” It means “I’m hopeless.”

Man, I resonate with that.

See, just over seven years ago, I decided (err…. was coerced) to take care of my mental health. It meant stepping away from college and going home to live with my parents. I believe we prefer to describe such situations as “humbling,” but euphemisms aside: it was embarrassing.

That step of faith was huge, and it freed me in many ways. But when I completed the program, I was far from healed. I quickly reverted to old habits because I hadn’t laid down my own rules, I’d just altered them slightly.

The pattern’s continued and, ever since then, I’ve been consulting my rulebook to see where I’m at… am I progressing or regressing? Am I flying or flailing?

Have I been here before?

Can you resonate?

I’ve Been Here Before

This struggle reminds me of a song by one of my favorite artists, Sara Groves. Aptly named “I’ve Been Here Before,” the song expresses Groves’ frustration at the woeful repetition of her struggles. She looks back at her failures, wondering why she is struggling and why she can’t do better than she’s done.

Yet, as the song comes full circle, Groves comes to realize what God has been showing me as well: in all the struggle, she hasn’t been alone.

My mind screams: I’ve been here before. But Christ has declared a sweeter word: So have I.

Do you know what that means? It means we can shred those legalistic rules we’ve set for ourselves; we can snap the measuring sticks. Because our Savior has been with us through all the muck and He didn’t leave us then, nor will He leave us now.

Do you know what else that means? We can be free.

My mind screams: I’ve been here before. But Christ has declared a sweeter word: So have I.

Even as I tearfully contemplate the faith it takes to cling to freedom over fear, I’m reminded that there is nowhere we have been or will be that is absent of our Savior.

And in that hope, we can gaze with a correct perspective. Instead of looking at where we have been, we can look at how God has been faithful.

Friends, we need to be the kind of Christians who focus on the Ebenezer stones of God’s faithfulness—the reminders that grace, not grit, has carried us thus far. Mercy, not merit (or failure!), has brought us to this place.

And that same grace and mercy will carry us home.

A Fresh Start

Maybe your circumstances elicit a frightening déjà vu. Maybe you are in a twilight-zone-of-a-season and, like me, you find yourself in reverse. You’re a million miles from noticing God’s free gifts. Instead, you’re trying to figure out if you’ve been here before and what that even means—about your fate and about your worth.

Grace, not grit, has carried us thus far. And that same grace will carry us home.

Deep breath.

Focus on Him, not on where you may or may not be. In Him, every fear is vanquished and all shame is healed. In Him, you gain ground.

When we focus on our King and not our circumstance we can realize what Sara Groves eloquently puts to song:

“Oh, I’ve been here before, and I’ll tell ya what I’ve seen: A hand of grace reaches out to me. A voice inside says I will be free.”

In the Name of Freedom,

Han

One thought on “I’ve Been Here Before…

  1. Thanks for this meditation on DeJa’Vu. Having been on this walk with Christ almost forty years, I find the Lord knows our frame. He knows we can’t take it all at once. When you come back to a place you’ve been before, rehearse the goodness of God you found the last time, then walk through the challenge from a different angle. An onion is often used to equate the process of peeling off the layers, one by one, until the gem in the center is revealed. Never give up, He has promised to never leave nor forsake you! Hallelujah!

    Like

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