Get over it!” “Move on!” “The past is gone!”
Well-meaning friends may offer you their best unsolicited advice, but their words hurt. Why? The past still haunts you. Are new beginnings possible? Is healing a reality? How do we confidently release the past and embrace the future? How do we find the strength to “press on”?
I’ll be the first to admit that some gut-wrenching issues in my life have taken time and even Christian counseling in order to heal and move forward again. So I’m not offering you pat answers.
Life-altering wrongs committed against us may never be corrected in this lifetime. But what about the times when we’ve wounded others? How can we remove the “Cain-stamped” seal on our souls – the glaring sins and blunders that have almost destroyed our lives in the past?
Only God can completely remove those, but here are five ways to help you find healing from your past.
1. See yourself as God sees you.
As a child growing up in the church, I still remember the teaching on “justification.” One teacher explained it simply: Jesus’ death on the cross made it possible for me to be right with God – ”just as if I had never sinned” (Romans 3:24). So, as a follower of Christ, I get that. Because of Jesus, that’s the way God views me.
But in a series of Christmas messages at our current church recently, a speaker focused on Jesus and His perfect character. Jesus was tempted in every way, yet He never sinned. Faced with every wrong choice imaginable, He always obeyed. When Jesus took our sin upon Himself, the perfect, sinless, Son of God, and we accept that payment for our own sins, God then sees us, as believers, like He sees Jesus – as if we have always obeyed, and as if we always will obey.
Maybe that truth doesn’t affect you the same way, but somehow, seeing me as if I’ve always obeyed – in addition to just as if I’d never sinned (even though they mean the same) – forged in me a new attitude of gratitude. If God sees me that way, then I need to as well. The mistakes and sins of my past no longer exist – except as a reminder in my own heart of my humanity (which leads me to #2.)
2. Place GRACE beside every destructive thought and negative reminder from the past that threatens you.
Satan loves to remind God’s children of their marriage mess-ups, their parenting blunders, their business failures, and their prideful actions of the past. You can keep trying to pay for those yourself, but the reality is, you can never really undo the past. You can only learn from it, and accept God’s grace to move beyond it. It’s God’s grace that erases our past; and it’s God’s grace that will remake our future (Ephesians 2:5-8; Hebrews 4:16; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
Each time you begin to dwell on your mistakes or sins of the past, visually picture the words GRACE beside those thoughts, pushing the negative ones out. Then whisper a thank you cry to God: “Lord, thank you for your grace that brings healing from my past. Thank you for redeeming me, and for seeing me as if I have always obeyed. Thank you that You love me completely and unconditionally.”
3. Meditate on the healing truths in God’s Word daily.
Almost every “how-to” topic I write seems to include this step. But the relevance of God’s Word never changes (Isaiah 40:8, Proverbs 30:5, Matthew 4:4, NIV). Scientists and doctors have proved that prayer and meditation on spiritual truths like those in the Bible can actually promote healing, well-being, and longevity, by impacting the brain positively.
Joshua 1:8 told us thousands of years ago what scientists are just now discovering. ”Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8, NIV). Centuries later, the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to continue in the Word because, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV).
God’s Word doesn’t return “void.” In other words, allowing God’s truths and promises to saturate our lives give us the very defense and offensive we need to press on positively to the future God has prepared for us. God will take those implanted seeds of truth to accomplish His purpose for our lives.
4. Forgive as Jesus has forgiven you.
If you desire – and expect – God’s grace and forgiveness to remain active in your life, you must learn to not only forgive others, but also yourself. When I temporarily slip back into an “Oh, me!” mentality, I find comfort and grace in reversing to an “Ah, Lord,” declaration. “Ah, Lord, if you have forgiven me so completely, what right do I have not to forgive others – or even myself?” (Forgive, as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13 NIV). His grace enables us to do what we can’t do alone: forgive.
You’ve heard, “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” I would add, “to not forgive is to trample down God’s grace and render it useless in our lives.” I love Proverbs 24:16 (NLT): The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. Everyone errs. But with God’s grace, we can all start over.
Perhaps we could also add, “To err is human, but not to learn from it (our errors), is foolish.” Be patient with yourself. Get an “accountability partner” – someone you trust who can check in with you often and help keep you moving in the right direction. You can step in the same hole only so many times. Sooner or later you’ll need to take a new path. Receive God’s infinite, complete forgiveness as a gift; then give Him the gift of belief and trust: that He still has good plans, a hope and a future for you (Jeremiah 29:11).
5. Keep moving forward by anticipating something today and something tomorrow.
My father used to say, “Have something to do today, something to do tomorrow.” I don’t know about you, but there’s alwayssomething to do at my house – or in my life – but not always what I anticipate doing. Yet even in the midst of the mundane, it helps to change my outlook by focusing on something I can look forward to today, and something I can look forward to tomorrow. That something may be as ambitious as writing 2500 words, or as practical as planting new garden flowers. It could be as simple as “coffee with Jesus,” moments when I can mix the aroma of fresh java with the perfume of God’s presence and time in His Word, or simply having lunch with a good friend.
Find joy in what you do, and in doing for others. Putting our past behind is a constant action; but so is pressing on. Consider a reachable goal like Mother Teresa‘s: “Doing small things with great love” – even while she worked in the midst of extreme poverty and adverse circumstances.
Recently, I read of two women and their noteworthy goals. One had just completed hers: writing 365 thank you notes in the previous year – one per day. The other woman chose a simple goal for 2012: “Be kind.” Great “somethings” to look forward to!
Busy Activity vs. Balanced Work
Discern the difference between busy activity and balanced work. Coping with a painful past can include hiding ourselves behind a facade of endless activity. We can try to cover our pain by eliminating any time to think, rest, or refresh. But band-aids don’t bring inner healing. They only cover the scars or open wounds. Balanced Work is a meaningful and intentional fulfilling of God’s purpose for our lives – that doesn’t crowd out right priorities.
These are only a few ways to help you find healing from the past. Accepting the truth that God has already covered your past will help eliminate any of your own painful coping methods. But it means trusting God daily with the details of your life. He will bless your todays and reinforce your tomorrows if you live in anticipation of God’s plans for you. He is the only One who can truly help you put the past behind and press on toward the