- Moving Past Your Past
- Philippians 4:8
- Lyndol Loyd May 27, 2018
An old legend portrays three men – maybe one of them is like you? Each carries two sacks, one tied in front of his neck and the other rests on his back.
When the first man was asked what was in his sacks, he said, “In the sack on my back are all the good things friends and family have done. That way they are hidden from view. In the front sack are all the bad things that have happened to me and all the mistakes I’ve made. Every now and then I stop, open the front sack, take the things out, examine them, and think about them.”
Because he stopped so much to concentrate on all the bad stuff, his pace was slow and he made little progress in life.
When the second man was asked about his sacks, he replied, “In the front sack are all the good things that have happened to me. I like to see them, so quite often I take them out to show them off to people and reminisce.”
“The sack in the back? I keep all my mistakes, all my regrets, in there and carry them all the time. Sure they’re heavy. They slow me down, but you know, for some reason I can’t put them down.”
When the third man was asked about his sacks, he answered, “The sack in front is where I keep all the blessings I have experienced, all the great things other people have done for me. The weight isn’t a problem. In fact, it keeps me moving forward.”
“The sack on my back is empty. There’s nothing in it. I cut a big hole in its bottom to put all my regrets and all my mistakes from my past. They go in one end and out the other, so I’m not carrying around any extra weight at all.”
With which of these three people do you identify? I have a hunch that it isn’t the last one. Why? Because I’ve been around enough people during my time as a pastor to know that few people have reached a place where they are able to cut a hole in the bottom of the bag that holds their regrets.
We are far more likely to collect and carry them with us – no matter how heavy they become. As our burdens grow, we eventually become saddled by our past, allowing it to guide our journey.
If we want to get beyond the shoulda, coulda, and wouldas of life then we have to come to a point of learning how to move beyond our pasts – to experience the power of a clean slate. It is the only way for us to come to the point of living an emotionally and spiritually healthy life.
Your present is inextricably linked to your past. If you are weighed down by regret, pain and guilt over things that happened two decades ago or two hours ago, you will not be able to live fully in the present. It just isn’t possible.
As long as you are perpetually looking over your shoulder, you will feel unfinished. You will feel distracted. You will feel less alive than you are. Your past will seep into your present and contaminate almost every one of your thoughts, feelings and actions.
Don’t just take my word for it. This is more than a mere opinion. This is a documentable, scientific fact. Unfinished business takes on a life of its own because the brain remembers incomplete tasks or failures longer than any success or completed activity.
It is technically known as the “Zeigarnik Effect.” When a project is completed, the brain places it in a special memory. The brain no longer gives the project priority or active working status, and bits and pieces of the achieved situation begin to decay.
But regrets have no closure. The brain continues to spin the memory, trying to come up with ways to fix the mess and move it from active to inactive status, but it can’t – not without deliberate help.
If you and I don’t take the necessary steps to bring closure to the unfinished business of our pasts, just like Ebenezer Scrooge, we will hear the ghosts of the past creeping into our minds and rattling their chains day after day after day. Their ghoulish voices will haunt us and taunt us until we take seriously the matter of redeeming our past.
You can try to avoid the painful memories of whatever is troubling your mind, but late at night, as you get into bed, turn out the light, you will hear a whisper in your head… “I should have never let it happen.” “Why was I so selfish?” “I’d never have these feelings if…”
I don’t know what kind of unfinished business you carry around in your sack, but I know it’s dragging you down. In fact, the more you work to avoid facing it, the more attention and energy it requires.
At risk of sounding like a broken record let me say it again, your present is inextricably linked to your past. So do yourself a favor and seriously consider asking God to give you His power to help move you past your past.
Hear these words this morning from the Apostle Paul as he was writing to the church at Ephesus in the New Testament letter of Ephesians 1:18-23:
“18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. 19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. 21 Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. 22 God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. 23 And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”
Many of us would love to experience the “confident hope” that Paul wrote about, but we know that our own strength is insufficient to bring it about. We know because we have tried time and again, but have failed to see the results we so desire.
What Paul understood, and what we have to understand, is that God and God alone has the power necessary for this kind of a task. The same power that was able to raise Christ from the dead is available to us to help us resurrect the dead areas of our lives where our regrets lurk and live if we are willing to partner with Christ for the task.
Moving beyond the past and living fully in the present is possible for us, but at the same time we have to acknowledge that it is a process. It takes commitment and it is hard work.
What I’d like for us to do is to spend some time examining what the keys are to moving past our past so that we can get to the point of living life in all its fullness.
- Allow God To Heal Your Hurts
Buried feelings, especially painful ones, have a high rate of recurrence. The place to begin in redeeming your past is to start with where it hurts. Healing your hurts, particularly if they run deep, will likely bring closure to many parts of your past.
But be aware that healing your hurts is a process of painful self-exploration. It involves allowing the Holy Spirit to search your heart and mind. Personal growth is quite often painful, but it is worth the price.
Some of you will remember the ancient Greek myth about the nymph Pandora. Hidden inside a box were all the painful parts of Pandora’s history that she was trying to avoid, the parts that she wanted to bury.
But those hidden and buried parts were giving her trouble. One day, Pandora opens the box and all of the painful parts of her life come storming out, spilling all over the place.
That’s the part of the story that most of us remember, but there is more. As those parts were exposed to the light, as she explored the hidden pieces, she made her way to the bottom of the box, where she found that which had been missing in her life – hope.
When we open the Pandora’s box within ourselves we may find painful parts we would rather ignore, but as we work through them, we will find hope at the bottom of the box, just like Pandora.
Sorting through the painful memories is necessary because by healing the pain of the past, we protect ourselves from repeating the pain in our present – especially in our relationships.
That might sound a little bit strange, but the truth is that often we use new relationships as replacement parts for old hurts and old losses. Every relationship gives you the chance to resolve issues you didn’t get squared away in the previous one. But if you don’t heal your hurts, you’ll never get them squared away. You’ll just continue to repeat relationship problems and replay your pain again and again.
For example, if you were wounded by betrayal from a friend in your past and that pain has never been healed, you are likely to become highly sensitive to signs of betrayal in your present friendships.
You may read into innocent behavior motives that aren’t really there. Why? Because your unfinished business, your painful, buried feelings, keeps clamoring for attention.
Unconsciously, you will be looking for a perfect friend who never fails to somehow erase your pain from the past and, of course, you will be disappointed because the perfect friend doesn’t exist.
If you want to get serious about healing your past hurts and experiencing confident hope then it is time to invite the Holy Spirit to help you take inventory and begin the healing process.
- Making Restitution
This is an idea you probably haven’t heard much about in a while. Restitution is an old fashioned sort of word. According to the dictionary, restitution is “an act of restoring.” After you’ve done the arduous work of healing hurts from your past, the next step is to right whatever may be wrong.
Here’s a straightforward example. My parents used to own a Ben Franklin 5 & Dime store when I was a young boy. Periodically, there would be a child who would steal something from my parents’ store and their parents would make them return whatever they stole, pay for it and apologize for what they had done. Sometimes it was for something as small as a piece of bubble gum, other times it might be something like a video game.
Most of our regrets deal with matters that are somewhat more complex than making amends over a piece of candy or a toy that didn’t belong to us. For this reason some people have decided that restitution isn’t an important concern.
While there may be difficulties with how to go about restitution, I still believe that it is an important step in redeeming your past. If you talk with people who have gone through the process of restitution they will tell you how good it feels it get it off of their backs.
- What if you made amends for a wrong you caused or allowed to happen?
- What if you apologized for something mean spirited you said years ago?
- What if you took responsibility for the hurt your actions caused in someone else’s life?
Chances are that you haven’t stolen anything from a store or cheated on your spouse, but the likelihood of you needing to restore a few things from your past is pretty good. Maybe you…
- … stole someone’s reputation with gossip?
- … cheated someone of their dignity by being too harsh?
- … took someone’s joy by causing undeserved pain?
Anyone who is serious about redeeming their past can benefit from this old fashioned principle. Consider taking a moment to do some soul searching and see what names come to mind for you.
Then make a courageous decision to pick up the phone, write a letter or e-mail, or make a visit. I can’t promise how the other person will respond; that is beyond our control. But I can tell you that your spirit will feel lighter once you take a step in this direction.
Back in the 1980’s, model, Donna Rice’s name hit the tabloids in a scandal with then Colorado Senator, Gary Hart. In the aftermath, Hart’s bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination was trashed and so was Rice’s reputation.
Rice disappeared from the public eye, but she came back passionately committed to God and to an organization known as “Enough is Enough” that fights to keep pornography out of the hands of minors.
Thankful for the support of her family, friends and her husband, Rice is most thankful for God’s work of grace in her life. She was quoted as saying, “God loves us, but he doesn’t grant us immunity from the consequences of our choices. However, when we mess up, if we ask his forgiveness, he’ll redeem those choices. God has brought purpose to my pain.”
God wants to redeem your choices too. Don’t settle for a sack full of mistakes and regrets. There is no need to have your mind preoccupied with memories that serve no purpose.
Your memory is who you are. It is your uniqueness. Your very soul is shaped by what you choose to remember. No wonder Paul wrote to the Philippians, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).
For as we fill our mind with these things, yesterday loses its grip and we begin to take hold of today.