We have heard these clichés so many times before, ‘you can’t change the past,’ ‘what’s done is done’ and so forth. Still too many people refuse to let go of the past. Guilt, grief, loss or other circumstance, if not compartmentalized to memories, can consume you to the point of mental and spiritual paralysis. There are many regrets that I still have of things past and that I wish I could change, but I cannot. God, however, provides us with the optimal solution to recover from our past transgressions or hurt. The state of being protected and sanctified by the favor of God’s eternal love for us, more commonly known as grace. Grace is the great deliverance from mental and spiritual paralysis. As time may heal all wounds, without God’s grace, the wound can never heal completely.
God wants us to move forward. He said so through the words of the Apostle Paul when he wrote about ‘forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.’
The past is not to be relived only remembered. Reliving your past only enslaves you to it. If you are stuck in the past, how can you ever expect to reach forward to what lies ahead?
People who are slaves to their pasts are easy to spot. Some of the telltale emotional signs are low self-esteem and pessimism borne out of a sense of helplessness. Helplessness is a debilitating condition that indicates a lack of control over one’s surroundings and circumstances. Ironically, helplessness is a learned condition that can evolve from early childhood.
Each person desires a feeling of mastery over his or her environment. This is an important foundation for emotional development. However, an accumulation of negative events occurring over time persuades many that they are the root cause of these events. Soon helplessness causes some people to react to negative events thinking, “I’ll never be any good at this,” “People just don’t like me,” “I’m stupid,” and so on.
As life progresses and events unfold, based on a preconditioning of negativity, futility sets in and a learned pattern of helplessness takes over. We learn to become helpless. If helplessness is allowed to propagate as an accepted emotional state, anxiety and depression can sweep in and what lies behind will overwhelm your perspective. The good news is that helplessness is learned and what is learned can be combated or unlearned.
Psychologically, cognitive therapy that includes indentifying negative interpretations of events and countering the tendency to imagine the worst is one approach to unlearn helplessness and reach forward by promoting learned optimism. This psychological approach to learned helplessness is effective and of a great value to many. However, a pure psychological approach may leave one a bit short of permanence in reaching forward to learn optimism. Remember, what can be learned can also be unlearned and optimism is no exception.
Several years ago, I received an email that stated the solution for many of life’s problems can be found in the exact center or middle of the Bible. The email went on to give the location for that center at Psalms 118:8. Indeed there are 594 chapters before Psalms 118, 594 chapters after Psalms 118 and in the center of Psalms 118 is verse 8. Paraphrased, Psalms 118:8 says “It is better to trust in God than to trust in man.” Psychology provides many beneficial solutions to help us overcome a multitude of emotional deficiencies, but as invaluable as psychology is, it does not come with a lifetime warranty. In a word, a lifetime warranty can be found at the center of God’s word – and that word is Grace! Psychology can get us there, but only Grace will keep us there.
I have known many dear friends and acquaintances that refuse to seek God’s grace to emancipate them from their pasts. I pray for them continually. However, in the scheme of life, you and I cannot intercede to seek God’s grace for them; they must do that on their own. But continue to pray for them that one day they will come to seek God’s grace and be free of their pasts.
Waking in the morning with a view of life as being a glass half full rather than half empty is such a compellingly beautiful experience. So no matter how hard it may seem to let go, or how hard it may seem to forgive and forget, having a glass half full perspective is possible. Just start at the center with a little bit of grace.
Resting on past laurels can also encumber your ability to reach forward to what lies ahead. Fame and fortune can lead to infamy and misfortune if all you do is to hang your hat on past accomplishments. It enslaves you as well. How many great athletes of the past wind up on the ash heap of obscurity? I can guarantee you there exist more than a few. Being a slave to a personification of what you were 10 or 20 years ago is only reliving the past. How many comebacks have we all witnessed that have fallen into futility? I can name several, yet in each and every one of them the motive was the same; the inability to let go and reach forward. Time passes these people by, just as it does anyone else. That is the reason God has given us such a wide path to follow with a bit of wiggle room.
Many things are left to accomplish in our lives and many different paths to follow. Each path that we take in life has a beginning and an end. If we come to the end of a path and stay there hoping for it to magically extend, then you may be waiting for an eternity. Be proud of what you have done in the past, but reach forward to the possibilities of what you can yet accomplish.