This is one of those questions that can strike fear in the heart of the most confident person. Why? Because everyone has done something in their life that they wish they had done differently or there is some circumstance they would like to change. It may be something they don’t want to talk about because it brings up feelings such as inadequacy, regret or anger. If you never made any mistakes, and your life is perfect (you may be in denial), but just wait… If you live long enough, something is bound to happen that falls in the category of “What the hell was I thinking?” or “Why was I born into THIS family?”.
I have made lots of mistakes. Some things were under my control and I take full responsibility. Other events, not under my control, have happened in my life that I would not wish on anyone else. Based on history, unpredictable random acts by others and the aging process, there is a chance that past traumas will not be the last hardships I face, and with God’s grace, overcome.
There was a time when I let my past define me. I felt ashamed, like I was less than everyone else. I found it difficult to forgive myself. Like a sack full of heavy rocks, I dragged my past around with me. No wonder I lacked self-confidence. Where did these feelings of shame and lack of value from? Maybe I was shamed by comments from family members into feeling the way I did; maybe it was my own misinterpretation of what God was and what He expected of me or maybe I was just extremely hard on myself. I don’t remember what made me feel so unworthy, and frankly, it really doesn’t matter. Our past cannot define us unless we choose to let it, albeit unconsciously. I carried my heavy sack of shame around for far too many years. Carrying around my bad feelings about my past certainly didn’t erase that past. If it did anything, the unworthiness I felt, slowed down the process of being able to fully step into who I could become.
As I learned to love and accept myself “warts and all”, I slowly released my grip on my sack of pain and guilt. I felt a lightness in my heart and joy stirred my spirit. I began to see what was unique, good, lovable and beautiful about me. I no longer felt a need to live out my future based on my past or let it impact who I would be in the present
Occasionally, my past calls out to me and reminds me of some unfortunate decision I made or action I took. It takes a deliberate, conscious effort on my part to avoid getting pulled into that darkness. I “thank” whatever particular painful memory arises for its’ input, but I dismiss it and do not allow it to dwell in my thoughts or ruin my day.
I have not forgotten my mistakes, nor do I pretend they never happened. The abusive partners, the poor financial choices or other unfortunate decisions, were all powerful teachers. Those experiences helped me to become who I am today and gave me the gifts of compassion and understanding so I can help others. I simply don’t allow my past to hold any power over me today.
We can compare letting go of our past to studying a subject in school. Remember those big, heavy text books we had to lug around in high school or college? When we completed the class, did we feel compelled to carrying that text book around with us every day? No, of course not! We learned our lessons, passed our tests and moved on to the next class. Life is not much different. I like to call it Earth School.
I embrace and enjoy the happy memories, the memories of my successes, the times I did something that lifted the spirits of someone else or precious moments spent with loved ones. I hold close the thoughts that bring me joy and empower me because they feed my soul and encourage me to love myself.
Be grateful for your past. Our lessons are not always easy, but once learned, we need only remember the lesson, and we do not need to relive the pain by playing the movie of our past over and over again in our minds. Set down your heavy load of guilt, anger, hurt, shame or regret. You have carried that burden for too long! I believe that God can turn any mess we make into a message that can empower us if we let Him. Release the painful thoughts you carry, and open your arms, heart, soul and mind to receive the joyful, limitless life that is available to you!