Dealing With The Past

Charles J. Aebi

Dear Aebi: "How can I deal with hurts from the past that I can't seem to forget or put out of my mind?”

Memory is a wonderful thing in that it allows us to relive many happy times that we have had, but it also has its downside. When we have suffered, either by someone doing us wrong or by some misfortune or illness happening to us, the memory may be painful. Time helps to ease the pain of unpleasant memories. When we lose a loved one, we suffer personal hurt by the loss. To whatever degree we concentrate on our loss and keep remembering it and dwelling on it, we maintain our pain. 

The same thing is true of any bad thing that happens to us: to talk about it all the time may gain sympathy from those we talk to, but it may also hinder the natural healing process. It is scratching the scab off a cut, digging in the wound, and making it bleed again. If you do that every day, the cut will not heal very quickly. 

So how can we deal with the past with its hurts? Usually it is true that our hurts involve both others and ourselves. One's hurts may be memories of things inflicted by others, or even of things he inflicted on others that he wishes he had never done. How can we deal with these memories? None of us can live in the past, and if we could relive it, we would likely re-make some of the same mistakes. Once past problems are analyzed and whatever amends are made that can be made, we should bury them and leave them buried. Continual rehashing of the past may serve only to embitter a person and not to solve anything. We live in the present, and we have to deal with the present. If we do that well, we can make both the present and the future pleasant and productive. The past is gone and we cannot change it, but we can change the present and the future.

Paul in Philippians 3:13-16 said that he pressed on toward what lay ahead and that “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” (NIV). Paul must have had memories that hurt to think about. At Philippi, he had been beaten uncondemned; at Lystra, he had been stoned and left for dead; at Jerusalem, he had been mobbed and jailed without cause; at Festus' court he had been denied justice. On the other hand, he had instigated the stoning of Stephen and persecuted the church harshly. Had Paul constantly dwelled on what he had done to others or what others had done to him, he might have gone mad. Instead, he repented of what he had done to others and replaced thoughts of what others had done to him with thoughts about what he could do to advance the cause of Christ. When he said he forgot the past (Philippians 3:13), he meant that he did not dwell on it continually. You cannot completely forget, but you can occupy yourself with other things.

Both Jesus and Stephen dealt with what others did against them by praying for their forgiveness (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60). To have been consistent, they must have themselves forgiven their tormentors. Their example suggests that we might more easily live with what people have done to us by forgiving them and praying for their forgiveness. –2660 Layman Rd., Vincent, OH 45784-9730.

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