Often in life, our greatest enemy isn’t a person, external obstacle or impossible situation—it’s our internal struggle with our past.
For Andrea, that was exactly the case. She was stuck in her past. Unable to get over the struggles of her youth, she kept looking back. Fixating on the neglect, reliving the abuse, analyzing the rejection. Twenty years later and she’s still asking why, trying to make sense of it all. Yet by continually looking backward, she is losing sight of her present and future.
It’s not a new problem. When God had called Lot and his wife out of Sodom, He called them into something new. He’d called them out of the darkness of their past and into new beginnings. Out of the sin and struggles they were surrounded by and into something better, something greater. But Lot’s wife was unable to let go of the past. She was incapable of letting go of that which was behind her. In fact, Scripture explains that she looked back and “became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26).
The truth of the matter is that the past can be paralyzing. In my occupation as a professional counselor, I help people work through the damage of their past every single day. Of course, it’s healthy to look backward in order to sort through the dynamics of our past. It’s important to understand where we’ve come from and how it has shaped us. It’s vital to grasp the things from our past that made us who we are today.
But a problem arises when we find our gaze is fixated only on what’s behind us. In our obsession, we will ultimately waste our present and compromise our future.
Yet God calls us to look forward—to see the new things that He is doing in our life rather than to dwell on the old; to focus on hope, healing and potential instead of wasting our life on regrets, judgment and unending analysis. He calls us to live for today and hope for tomorrow because for the believer in Christ, no matter what has happened in our past, greater things are yet to come.
So, maybe you are stuck on your past. Maybe a devastating break-up has paralyzed your heart. Maybe the sting of abuse and neglect continue to haunt you day after day. Maybe the choices you made and the road you once traveled are causing you major regrets. Maybe your mind is filled with things you “should have” done and bogged down by those you shouldn’t have. Maybe your heart is heavy with loss, pain and unending questions of “why.”
The past may be wrapping its deadly tentacles around your heart, trying it’s very best to steal your life and rob your hope. If this is you, God is calling you to start looking ahead (Philippians 3:13). Here are some practical ways to begin moving forward.
Accept your past
Accepting your past is not a once-and-for-all decision. It’s a process. It is not something that I take lightly in my own life, nor in the life of my clients. But no matter how dark or difficult your past may be, it is crucial to come to terms with the reality that it cannot be changed and it may never be forgotten, but it can always be used. God can take your scars and use them to strengthen, sharpen and shape you into who He wants you to be today.
For some, accepting the past comes with the healing power of time, God’s relentless grace and a whole lot of support. But for others, the process is much more complicated. If you find that you are unable to live in the present because of the burdens of your past, be open to seeking the help of a professional. Find a Christian counselor in your area and give yourself the chance to deal with, process and accept your past.
Understand your present
You will never be able to move forward until you start looking inward. More significant than what has happened in your past is who it has made you to be in the present. Though the past may shape your present, it can’t control it. By the grace of God, you are enabled to overcome your past by becoming who God has called you to be here and now. No matter what may lie behind you, God has placed you where you are at today “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Find your purpose, identify your passions and live for the present.
Envision your future
The past becomes dangerous when it robs you of your present, but it is also destructive when it blinds you to the future. Having a vision for your life is of ultimate importance to get where you want to go. Scripture explains that “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). The ability to live in the present grounds you, but the hope of living for the future is what propels you forward.
What does your life look like in one, five or 10 years? Where do you hope to be? What do you hope to be doing? Open your heart, release your mind, trust God’s leading and begin envisioning your future.
It’s time to overcome your past and stop looking back. It’s time to focus on your present, here and now. It’s time to look ahead and focus on where you hope to be. It’s time to entrust God with the scars of your history and allow Him to help you fix your eyes forward on His story.
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.