Why do people have such a propensity to hold onto the past? My friend Pauline says that she does it because the past is what she knows. There’s security in the past. Anything else is scary because it’s unknown. So, we cling to the past because, whether it was good or bad, it’s what we know. I suspect she’s right.
Holding onto the past is antithetical to living by faith, isn’t it? And yet, so many people of faith I know seem to be enslaved by their past. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
There are those who hold onto the past because they believe that their best days are behind them. They may have a moment of glory from high school that they relive over and over again. Or a cherished memory of happier times when they were surrounded by loved ones who are now gone. They may look at the good-old-days as a time that was simpler, when you spoke to your neighbors by name, when people appreciated the value of a hard day’s work. Nostalgically, we remember the past like Lake Wobegon, the little town that time forgot, “where all the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.”
Others hold onto the past because they can’t let go of pain they are carrying. They don’t want to relive the past, so much as they want to be relieved of it. But they can’t forget past resentments or regrets. They resent the wrongs they have endured at the hands of another. Anger eats a hole inside them that can only be relieved through genuine forgiveness, which seems to elude them no matter how hard they try. Or they may regret the wrongs they have done themselves. If only I could have been a better parent to my son. I should have known better than to marry a man with a drinking problem. If I had been smarter I would have finished college. All the coulda-shoulda-wouldas can suck the life out of you if you let them.
Certainly, there is value in remembering our past. It can be the source of beautiful memories for us. And we can always learn from our past experiences, whether crowning achievements or royal screw-ups. Our history has made us who we are. And yet, it doesn’t have to determine who we will be. Not unless we allow it to. The most tragic thing about holding onto the past is that it prevents us from embracing today.
What is your relationship with your past? Would you say it’s healthy? Do you spend way too much time reliving the past as the best part of your life? Or is the past a life-denying source of resentment and regret for you that you just can’t shake? What would your today be like if you could let go of your past and truly live by faith?
I struggle with this all the time. So much so, that I have a special Celtic blessing taped to the wall in my office, just above my computer screen. It’s my prayer for a life of wholeness. That life includes a healthy respect for the past, while keeping it where it belongs, in the past. It’s about living fully in each moment that God gives me, trusting that the best is yet to come. That’s what it means for me to live by faith.
May your past be a pleasant memory,
Your future filled with delight and mystery,
Your now a glorious moment,
That fills you life with deep contentment.