In this episode:
Sometimes what keeps us stuck in the past is our own mindset. The apology from an offender might never come. And restitution might not be possible. But what if we could move forward and not punish ourselves for things we can't undo? The future is wide open for us to repurpose our struggles into something that gives us new purpose.
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In episode 47, I introduced the idea of being stuck looking in the rearview mirror. This week, I give some next steps.
I’ve met many bitter people, and I’ve noticed most of them have something in common—they’re stuck on something from the past. It consumes them and negative thoughts and feelings erode anything positive they experience.
When something good happens to someone else, negative people can't rejoice with them. Instead, they look for some way to point out a downside. I’ve noticed how easily I can become pessimistic and fall into bitterness and resentment. It stems from buried hurt and old attitudes. Because I’m aware of this, I’ve made a conscious effort to deal with negative emotions.
It isn’t easy. But I’ve realized that I can’t move forward at the same time I have my focus locked on the past. As with driving a car, it wouldn’t take long before I crashed if I attempted to move forward without my eyes looking at the road ahead.
These four steps have helped me be free from the negative influence of old regret and pain—both my regrets over things I’ve done, and my pain over hurtful things said and done to me. You can be FREE too.
F - Forgive Others. You may never get an apology. You may never be able to confront the person who deeply wounded you. That person might not even realize he or she ruined your life, and that doesn’t seem fair. You may never see justice and your perpetrator might never bear any consequence for his or her actions. But you can still forgive.
At first, it doesn’t seem fair to let it go, but forgiveness does so much good for a wounded heart. It prevents the offender from having the ability to continue to wound you from within. Your abuser, the person who wounded you beyond words, or the family member who made your life a daytime nightmare doesn't deserve forgiveness.
Forgiving is probably the last thing you feel like doing. But the Bible teaches us that forgiving keeps Satan from getting an advantage over you. Forgiving might not matter to the offender, but it matters greatly to your own spiritual, emotional, and physical health. It's the antidote for a poison that eats at your soul.
We can’t forgive on our own, but God can do what we cannot do. It takes the power of God’s Holy Spirit in us to let go of our justified anger. Jesus prayed to the Father asking him to forgive the horrible people who tormented and beat him and then hung him on a cross. He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). If anyone could be justified in holding a grudge, it would be Jesus. He was innocent, yet he forgave those who mistreated him. He is our example for pardoning those who have wronged us.
We’ve talked about forgiving the wrongs done to us, but what do we do about the mistakes we have made and the things we have done that we deeply regret?
R - Receive Grace. Have you ever said, “I could never forgive myself for that”? Do you ever wonder if what you have done is too awful to forgive?
As a wife and mother, I’ve made some foolish mistakes. I’ve tossed around harsh words and criticism and wounded the spirits of my loved ones in anger. So many times, they’ve forgiven me for my selfish, bratty actions.
I’ve confessed my sin to God too, but for a long time I bore a cloud of doubt in my soul that made me think I wasn’t really forgiven. I’d clobber myself with negative talk—words like stupid, loser, failed again—and try to figure out how to forgive myself for messing up. Until I went to the Word of God and realized I’m already forgiven.
God has already offered to forgive whatever it is you have done when you confess your guilt to him and ask for his forgiveness. There is no need to worry about whether your sin is too big for his grace. Nothing is too great. You can forgive yourself because of his forgiveness. It’s as simple as receiving God’s grace.
It sounds too easy, but that’s the beauty of grace. It’s simple. We try to complicate it by thinking we have to do something to receive it. Some people think they have to do good deeds to make up for their wrongs. But God’s grace doesn’t come with conditions. He accepts you just as you are, no pre-cleaning necessary.
E - Eliminate Guilt, Shame, and Regret. When you have forgiven others and been forgiven by God, you have no need to live in guilt for your past actions. With his forgiveness, God wipes away the shame for what has been done to you, and the regret for your wrongs.
Eliminate that guilt by reminding yourself that God has removed it and you are no longer condemned or labeled by your past sins. This is what the Bible refers to as being justified. When you give your life to Christ, God removes your guilt as though it had never happened.
God removes all shame too. No matter what was done to you, you stand before God as a beautiful woman who is loved and restored to purity because of grace. Instead of looking in the rearview mirror wishing you could have a do-over on your past, you can look forward and live without regret.
Some people turn to alcohol or drugs, or other addictions to numb their shame. Others shop excessively. Some overeat. Some resort to anger. Some overachieve. Whatever the coping mechanism, it's tied to the view in the rearview mirror, not the front windshield. God assures that we can let it go because he's taken the shame. We don't need to haul it around anymore.
E - Engage in the Present. The final step in being free from the past is to engage in the present. When we have our narrow focus on the past, we miss the beautiful and wonderful things we have right in front of us. Look around you and notice the things you’ve missed because of bitterness or anger.
Notice the blessings you overlooked and the opportunities to start over that God has given you.
A New Front View
Freedom doesn’t equal perfection, but without the emotional burden of the past, God is free to work on us—to continue shaping us into women who reflect his qualities. We are forgiven and free to enjoy the present and to dream about the future.
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.
Sometimes the best way to let go of the past is to see it as an opportunity to help someone else through a similar situation. Or it’s the woman whose husband left her for another woman who has the empathy needed to lead a Bible study for divorced women. Or someone who was abused volunteers at the abuse shelter.
God repurposes your experiences for his glory.
Where might you be able to use your painful experiences to be a blessing to someone else?
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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.