SOURCE: Leslie Vernick
There are times in our lives when we can’t let go of our past.
Every past mistake, sinful action, wrong word, and poor choice is rehearsed again and again. Or, when our painful childhood or hurtful and/or abusive marriage is long over, we still continue to feel angry, hurt and stuck in the memories and negative emotions about what happened to us. We don’t know how to move on.
If that’s where you are today, take some time to walk through these five steps. They will help you move the past into the past and keep it there.
1. Acknowledge the truth of what happened.
You can never move beyond something until you first honestly face it. Whether it is your own past failures or the sins of someone else, you can’t fix or forgive something that “didn’t’ happen,” is “no big deal,” “not really a problem,” or “someone else’s fault.”
Sometimes we don’t want to face the truth about what others or we have done because we don’t want to face the strong emotions that accompany admitting that reality. It feels easier to shut down and turn off or blame.
Write down the facts of what happened as best you can recall them. Don’t whitewash it or make it pretty. Commit to telling yourself the truth.
2. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
Some people are afraid to feel their feelings because they’re afraid of what will happen. Your feelings are powerful and important, but you do not have to act on them, you just need to respect them and acknowledge their presence.
Sometimes the wisest thing to do is to not to act on your feelings especially if they are destructive to yourself or to others.
Instead process your strong emotions in a journal, give yourself permission to feel your feelings, express them with paint or sculpture, share them with a counselor, coach or trusted friend. Look at them and ask yourself what they are trying to tell you?
3. Release the things you are not responsible for.
Sometimes we take responsibility for things that are not our fault. For example, if you were abused as a child, you may have believed the lie that you deserved it. If only you were a better kid, your parents would have loved you more or taken better care of you.
But the truth is, there is no perfect kid and good parents love their children unconditionally. No child deserves abuse even when he or she misbehaves. A parent loves, nurtures, instructs, and disciplines their child but not in cruel and abusive ways. When parents (spouse or others) abuse, there is something wrong with them, not you.
4. Take responsibility for what you can change.
In our journey to break free from our past, we must learn to take responsibility for our present, our future, and ourselves. Ask yourself if you use the excuse of your past to not grow up or handle yourselves now in a mature and/or godly way?
For example, we may continue to act helpless, refuse to try new things or avoid owning the problems we now create in our present relationships (such as being passive, being an enabler, allowing ourselves to be a repeat victim, or even justifying our own abusive behavior towards others).
You can’t alter what happened to you, and you can’t change other people into what you want (or wish) them to be. The only person you can change is yourself. Here are a few things you can work on changing:
You can change the way you see yourself:
The truest thing about you is what God says about you, not what you have been told, or even what you think. Don’t give the past the power to determine your present worth.
You can change the way you think about your past and the meaning you give it.
Joseph is a man who had every reason to allow past events to destroy his present and future life. (Read Genesis 37 to 50 for the story).
Joseph squarely faced the truth of what happened to him and vented his powerful emotions. He didn’t blame himself for what his brothers did to him, but he did take responsibility for his own thoughts about it. He continuously submitted his life to God, and we hear him explain this to his brothers when he said, “don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good.”
Look for strengths that have developed in you inspite of, not because of what happened to you. Don’t allow Satan to warp your thoughts about how to think about yourself or what’s happened to you. Satan tried to ruin your life in the past. Don’t give him ground in the present to rob you of your future.
You can change the way you respond to what happened in your past and what happens in the present.
It’s true that people provoke or hurt us, and this tempts us to sin, but how we respond to what they do or don’t do is our choice. Choose wisely.
Our lifestyle patterns and interpersonal styles are influenced by what happens to us, but more than that, they are shaped by what we do with what happens to us. Determine that you are going to grow and get healthy so that you are not disabled or destroyed by your past.
5. Work toward forgiveness
Forgiveness is NOT excusing the offender or minimizing the offense. Forgiveness is your decision to cancel the debt this person rightfully owes you. Don’t’ stay stuck in your past because the other person refuses to make amends, say their sorry, or change their destructive ways. Don’t give this person in your past one more ounce of control over you than he or she has already had thus far.
Understand that it is not the sin from your past that wields the fatal blow to you. It’s your unresolved anger, self-pity, bitterness, shame, and resentment that continue to poison your body and soul.
A person finds healing through the process of forgiveness, both receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness.That is why God is so insistent that we forgive. He doesn’t want past sin to ruin our present and future lives.
Forgiveness takes time, but it never starts with a feeling. It requires a decision. Decide to forgive even when you don’t feel forgiving.
Faithfully walking through these five steps will help you live more fully and freely now. God wants that for you my friend.