“God didn’t give us a delete button to erase the memory of our past. So God must want us to remember our past, but move forward. How do I do that?”
The question from my friend was excellent – and poignant. We have all suffered terrible times in our lives. Sometimes we want to forget them as if they never happened, and sometimes we find ourselves dwelling on them so much that we are essentially “stuck.” How do we remember and yet still move forward? I believe the answer is three-fold: we have to examine our aim, our attitude, and our approach.
First, our aim. The fact is, sometimes people want to stay in the past, even if it is a negative past. They hold on tight to the painful memories, drowning in self-pity because of some hurt, or mired in guilt because of some sin.
If our aim is that we want to dwell in the past, then that is inappropriate. We are to live and dwell in the present, with goals and hopes for the future. You can tell if you’re living in your memories if they are continually on your mind, in your words, and interfering with your daily activities … and nothing ever changes.
That being said, when you have been through a difficult or traumatic period in your life, you will need to come to terms with it. And that will require time, thought, and effort. Processing something – asking questions about it, thinking it through, working it out, and putting closure to it – is essential. It is not the same as “dwelling in the past,” because your aim is not to live in the past, but is to specifically get out of the past. Processing is the way out.
The next aspect is our attitude. Are we self-focused or God-focused? If I come to my memories with “I” on my mind (“I was hurt, I was lousy, I was a victim, I … I … I …”) then there is a good chance that we are not moving forward, but are actually stuck in the past.
If we come to our memories with a “what can I learn?” attitude, that is God-focused humility. We are looking back in order to move forward: to gain wisdom, to gain character, to gain compassion, to gain knowledge.
Finally, what is our approach? Staying in the past is passive. It’s as if we are watching our lives re-played on the TV screen: we sit, we watch, we stare … and it always turns out just the same.
Alternatively, when we take an active approach to our memories, we are coming with our minds and spirits engaged. We ask questions: “What happened? Why did it happen? How could I have prevented this? What can I learn? Where can I see God’s power and love and grace displayed?” We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it to change the present and the future.
So if you are struggling with negative memories, don’t be afraid. Take the time to process. Let your aim be to move forward, your attitude be one of a learner, and your approach be active. You will come through safely in the hands of God.
© 2009 Paula Marolewski
Paula J. Marolewski provides challenging and interactive adult Bible studies for individuals, Bible studies, small groups, and adult Sunday School classes at Sink Your Roots (www.SinkYourRoots.com). Studies include such topics as Debunking the Myths about Knowing God's Will. The site also offers free weekly Seedlings - “Little thoughts that grow big results.”