How the Past Could Hinder Our Progress

In this episode:

Life's rearview mirror frames our regrets for things we have done—failed relationships, financial blunders, poor decisions, and situations we wish we could do over. It also frames the things done to us—circumstances that were outside of our control such as abuse, a troubled home life, taunting from bullies, racial discrimination, and abandonment. If we get stuck on that view, it could hinder us from seeing the wonderful future God has ahead of us!

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Inspired Life

It’s easy to dwell on our past pain or mistakes until we’re so stuck looking in the rearview mirror we have trouble moving forward. In fact, sometimes it causes us move backwards.

For example, when the cruel words and actions of someone from the past play like a recording in your brain, you’re more likely to base your decisions on that recording if you dwell on them.

When a decision about applying for a new job or going back to school comes along, you back away from the opportunity and concede to hopeless lies. “You’ll never amount to anything but a loser,” you hear in your head.

Have you ever noticed that backing up a car takes more work than driving forward?

My husband worked for a cranberry grower for more than a decade, and during harvest I had the opportunity to work in the fields.

Usually, I received jobs that required physical labor, but no skill in handling equipment. One harvest day they were short a man and asked me to drive the vehicle we called the one-ton. I gulped, but “manned” up for the job.

For those who are truck illiterate like me, a one-ton is a large truck cab with a small dump truck back end. It has big dual wheels on the back and it’s a beast of a vehicle if, like me, you’re a woman with an aversion to big vehicles.

My job was to haul the load of stringy grass and weeds that came off the waste elevator, dump it out in a compost pile by the woods, then drive back to the harvest area and back the truck up a long, narrow sand dike with water ditches on both sides.

No problem. At least it wasn’t a problem when the guys did it.

Once I got in the truck, I knew I was in trouble. First, a truck like a one-ton has no window behind the seat—it’s covered by the dump truck on the back. I usually look over my shoulder when I back up a vehicle.

“Just use your mirrors,” my husband said. “I’ll be back there directing when you get closer. Watch my hand signals and you’ll know when to stop.”

I tried backing with those mirrors. I really did. I crawled backwards at a pace a sloth could have outrun. Unfortunately, I’d have run over any sloth that happened to race me because I swerved back and forth in a path that left tire tracks like rickrack in the sand.

Eventually, I gave up, opened the cab door and hung out the side with one hand on the steering wheel, the other clinging to the door handle to keep myself from plunging into the ditch as I looked over my left shoulder.

I got the truck to where it had to be, but I didn’t need a rearview mirror to get a clear view of the men snickering by the harvest machine. Forty-five minutes later, I got to do the same thing all over again.

Life, Repurposed

The past contains both happy moments and painful moments for most of us. Reminiscing is pleasant when we remember times of joy, heartwarming moments, and the bliss of childhood fun. But for many women, the past also contains ugliness, and we typically dwell more on the ugliness because of how it grips our emotions and steals the joy from the happy memories.

It’s like the loaded dump truck that blocks what we want to see when we look back, and forces us to look in the rearview mirror. The rearview mirror has a narrow focus—a hindered view of the past.

The rearview mirror frames our regrets for things we have done—failed relationships, financial blunders, poor decisions, rebellion, promiscuity, and situations we wish we could do over. It also frames the things done to us—circumstances that were outside of our control such as abuse, a troubled home life, taunting from bullies, racial discrimination, and abandonment.

I have never met anyone without some regret or some pain from the past. But I have met people who have moved forward and are happy. It is possible to let go and live looking out the front windshield with glances rather than long gazes in the rearview mirror.

The difference in the forward-moving person is that she has let go of a truckload of emotional junk, and she can see the past as one big picture of experiences—good and bad. The past has become a representation of how far she has come, rather than a tether repeatedly drawing her back into the pain.

If most people want to be happy, and if rehashing the past incites painful emotions, why do so many of us dwell on it? Why not look forward and move ahead? We often revisit our typical responses—withdrawal, anger, defensiveness, and other negative coping mechanisms.

It really comes down to fear. We’re afraid that if we let go, we won’t know ourselves anymore. We’ve woven our entire identity around the past.

Another reason people remain stuck in the past is to punish themselves. Whether what happened is their fault or not, many women punish themselves by refusing to move past the experience. Their self-worth is so low they don’t believe they deserve happiness, so the choices they make keep them in a perpetual state of unhappiness.

Choosing toxic friendships, abusive relationships, and unsatisfactory jobs, they sabotage their own happiness with impulsive mistakes. For some, it isn’t fear or self-punishment that keeps them from moving forward, it’s a longing for resolution. They’re holding out for an apology from someone who took advantage of them, and they long to hear that person admit responsibility for their pain. They want closure on a chapter that never had a satisfying ending.

Whatever the reason for holding on to the past, until we unload the truck, we’re stuck with the rear view. Next week, I’m going to continue this conversation with some info about how you can be FREE from the past.

Recommended Resources

If you have enjoyed this episode, you’ll find the content in chapter 4 of my book, The Repurposed and Upcycled Life: When God Turns Trash to Treasure. This book has humor and observations about life, biblical teaching, and ideas for how to apply the content. Plus, there is a small group Bible study workbook available too. Learn more about the books.

Do you feel stuck where you are because something from the past has paralyzed you emotionally? Perhaps old emotions, feelings, and insecurity crop up whenever you’re in a certain situation.

Sometimes, letting go of the past might begin with the help of a Christian counselor to work through issues. Be sure to tell your counselor that your goal is to heal and let go, and to shift your focus to the future, not to rehash the past to the point of repeatedly ripping open old wounds.

Sometimes an action helps. (like burning a paper in a fire pit) Take a leisurely drive—alone or with a friend—away from heavy traffic. Go without an agenda and bring your camera in case you want to capture the scenery. Roll the windows down if weather permits and indulge your senses. Observe how much of the delight you experience comes from focusing on what is up ahead, not on what is behind.

As you drive, think about how much it would help you to leave things from the past behind, just like you do when you drive.

Thanks for joining me! I’ll see you next week for part 2.


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(Please note: books posted here on my blog are purely because I want to share them. Sometimes I receive free copies for review, and other times I purchase the books. Some I get from the library. Either way, any endorsement I offer here on the blog is simply because I want to talk about the book. ) *This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. I sell my ebook via Amazon but I’m also a part of their “Associates” (i.e. affiliate) program which pays a commission on books and any other Amazon products people purchase via my links.

Michelle Rayburn is the author of The Repurposed and Upcycled Life: When God Turns Trash to Treasure, as well as a small group Bible study to accompany the book. Learn more about these and her other books here. A sample chapter of the book and Bible study are available for free download.

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This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission. I sell my ebook via Amazon but I’m also a part of their “Associates” (i.e. affiliate) program which pays a commission on books and any other Amazon products people purchase via my links.

Posted in Articles, Everyday Life & Practical Tips, Faith and Inspiration, Podcast Episodes.