As I was watching riots in the streets and monuments being torn down in the name of social justice, a strange thought came to mind: my mom’s old cast-iron skillet.
A few years ago when I was visiting my parents, my mom pulled out her old blackened skillet to make pancakes. I looked at the thing and said, “Mom, you’ve got to get rid of that—it’s gross.” She held it in her hand and looked at the thick layers of black residue and said, “It’s the seasoning. It’s supposed to be that way.”
I was unconvinced—and ignorant. I didn’t realize that years of cooking with oil, all those meals—some burnt, some beautifully made, some complete disasters—laid a well-oiled foundation for better cooking. The bacon, pork chops fried until they were tough as leather, pancakes with the first batch always overdone, macaroni and cheese with crispy tops, southern buttermilk biscuits, apple pie, omelets with melted cheese soaked in butter, and my mom’s perfect old-fashioned corn bread—all played a part in making that skillet. It had a history all its own, each layer of oil joining through the years to give it that seasoned magic.
Like I said, I didn’t realize this at the time. I just saw a grubby old pan that needed to be scraped clean or thrown away. I hate to admit it—and I’m ashamed of it now—but I pressured my mom to throw it away and buy a new stainless steel skillet that could be washed regularly. She, unfortunately, complied. Later, when I began studying culinary arts and seriously learning how to cook, I got a lesson on cast-iron pots. They need to be seasoned with layers of oil from cooking. Just like Mom said.
America is like that old skillet. It’s seasoned. Everything that has happened in the past is part of who she is—the good and the bad. To strip away the layers is to change who she is, to transform her into something else. To separate her from a diverse and complex history is to destroy something beautiful. Imperfect, but beautiful.
We’re like that too—each one of us. We all have our histories—our sins, our triumphs, our failures, our successes, the things we’re proud of and the things that flood us with shame. They’re our life story, and we wouldn’t be who we are today without them. Would we be better people today with a different history? Maybe. In some cases, probably. But we can’t change the past, and we would be unwise to erase it as if it never happened. We learn from it, we grow from it, and we develop wisdom in light of it.
This doesn’t mean we hold on to it. We don’t need to wallow in regret, and we certainly don’t need to force others to pay for the sins of their forefathers. To hold past sin over the head of someone—even a nation—is oppressive and a hopeless burden that makes one feel as if they’re defined by that sin, that single black mistake, when they should be seen as the kaleidoscope of color they truly are. Instead of imposing the past onto the present, we should look back with an eye of understanding and recognize that we are not the sum total of the bad parts. They’re part of the totality of our identity, but they’re not the whole.
Instead of looking at our country and ourselves as a grubby old pot that should have been washed clean long ago or tossed aside for something better, let’s look at it as seasoning. Each and every layer of our lives and our nation’s history is a season. Not all of them are pretty. Some of them are terribly painful, but we don’t remain in those times. We have moved past them—in most cases, already having paid the price for the mistakes we’ve made. We can’t keep paying them. We can’t demand our pound of flesh without destroying ourselves. To live as if yesterday is today is to see only the residue of regret and never see the big, beautiful picture. To live in the past is to be dead in the present.
The only answer to past pain and sin is forgiveness. Showing grace to others and giving it all over to the Lord—putting the hurt, the sin, the brokenness on his shoulders and trusting that he makes all things new in his time. For now, we live in this fallen world and we can’t remake the past or tear our histories to pieces. If we try, we will tear ourselves apart, and that only perpetuates the pain and suffering.
Instead of looking behind and bringing history into the present with all its injustices—making us feel as if it’s all happening now—we need to press on to take hold of the promises of Christ: that one day we will be made new, one day the perfect world we want to live in will be a reality, and the righteousness we want for ourselves and for others will be fully realized. We don’t have this life yet, but, as Paul told his fellow believers, one thing we can do is “forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead...press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [each of us] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14).
America as a nation and each one of us would do well to heed the words of Isaiah: “Forget the former things: do not dwell on the past” (43:18). No good comes from it—only bitterness and strife. We should simply let it be as seasoning in our lives and as a reminder to be careful how we live—“as those who are wise and not foolish.” God has told you what your focus should be—and it’s not vengeance, for that is his. Instead, “make the best use of your time. These are sinful days. Do not be foolish. Understand what the Lord wants you to do” (Ephesians 5:15–17). Focus on today, hope for tomorrow, and never allow the past to rob you of the present.