"Forget the former things; do not dwell in the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:18-19. "Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you." Proverbs 4:25. "We are products of the past, but we don't have to be prisoners of it." Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life.
More often than not, when we look back into the past, we are critiquing our behaviors, thoughts and movements that have occurred over a period of months and years. We are scrutinizing history. The issue with history is that it is already written and cannot be changed. Even knowing this, we (some of us) struggle to negotiate in our minds a past that will give us the peace and relief from that which has already taken place. This, I dare say, is an exercise in futility. "What is done, is done." William Shakespeare, Macbeth.
What captivates us so from the past? It is the place where too many of us have stored pain, hurt, regrets, bad decisions, missed opportunities, unspoken sentiments, guilt, bitterness, broken relationships, inability to forgive, joy, tragic memories, good memories, etc. While many can accept that we can't change the past, we don't always understand how we can make peace or at least come to terms with it and move on. Hence, we get trapped there while our future hangs in the balance.
In the scripture noted above, Isaiah is informing the children of Israel that while God has done great things for them in the past, there is no comparison to the even greater things that he has planned for their future. It is time for them to let go of the past and to step into the new blessings. One source puts it this way: "So great and wonderful shall be God's future interpositions in your behalf, that what He has done, great as that was, shall be comparatively forgotten."
The future holds promise. Why can't we leave the past behind? I think it is because we are conflicted. There are people, places and things that we don't want to give up from the past. Truth is, we already have or should have. Then there are the conflicting messages: "If you don't learn from the past (history), you are doomed to repeat it." "The past is dead, bury it." Confusing? Of course it is. But, somewhere in the middle is where we need to be, and maybe if we look at it together, we can finally put the past to bed and get on with our lives.
Let's get real for a moment, there are things in our past that haunt us, or simply will not allow us to move forward with ease of mind. Here is where we have to come to grips with the fact that we are prone to make mistakes. It's in our nature. I heard a pastor once preach: "Mistakes are inevitable, but forgivable." In this life, at some point in time we are not going to say, think or do the right thing. Yes, at times we are going to mess up. Don't be fooled by others who seem to always get it right. They don't either. Realistically, we can only face with honesty and humility the things that we wish we could have done, should have done or done better and resolve not to hold ourselves hostage for the rest of our lives.
Regrets, unspoken sentiments and the inability to forgive are high on the list of things that cause many of us angst about the past; freeze our thoughts in time, rendering us unable to think about a future. The reality about time is that it moves on with or without us. "Time waits for no man." Going through the motions of living, while being stuck in the past replaying things you cannot change, will almost nullify a fruitful future. You will wake up one day and find that life is rapidly passing, and everything in the past is still there and your heart and mind along with it. Think about it! Get out of there!!!!
With regard to regrets, we all have them. It is something that happened; it may have been as a result of poor judgment, or not, but it has already taken place. There is a lot of wisdom in the saying, "no sense crying over spilt milk." Pray about it, cry about it, if it's actionable, take action, get counseling if need be, but get over it and move on." Unspoken sentiments also have many people locked in "mental atrophy" for years. "I did not get to say goodbye." "I did not say I love you." If that person has transitioned, you are not going to have the opportunity to say it directly to them. However, Dr. Charles Stanley, affectionately referred to as America's Pastor, on his television show shares that we can speak our sentiments. He says to take two empty chairs and line them so that they face each other. You sit in one chair; and the empty chair represents the person to whom you wish to express your sentiments. Tell them what you want. Remember all this is bathed in prayer. God is always listening and He knows what to do. You are, however, relieved. Going forward, don't put off telling others how you feel while you have the chance. More importantly, learn to forgive. Just do it! You will never be free to move forward if you are clutching and carrying the burden of unforgiveness. Drop this load; forgive.
I grew up during the height of the civil rights movement. The two leaders that I held in high esteem were Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. They were diametrically opposed in their approach to obtaining civil rights for those who were oppressed; one promoted peaceful protest, while the other embraced "by any means necessary." However, they found common ground as human beings and as leaders in that they were striving for the same things; justice and equality. Well, being young and idealistic I respected both views. Years later when I became a high school teacher and in charge of planning events for Black history month, I came up with what turned out to be a great idea. Somewhere I had read that the daughters of both these legendary leaders had written a play titled "Stepping Into Tomorrow," a play which Attallah Shabazz described as "an advertisement of hope for all people." They were performing it across the country. Wow, I thought, why not ask them to perform it at South Bronx High School. All they could do is tell me "no," I reasoned. Imagine my surprise and extreme delight when Ms. Yolanda King and Ms. Attallah Shabazz agreed to do the play for our students and staff.
We were especially honored by their performance and educated as we learned that these two kindred daughters had apprehensions about each other at first because of the opposing views held by their famous fathers. However, they found commonality forged by their interest and advocacy in helping all people. They were able to acknowledge the injustices that their fathers had fought so hard to rectify, and had made great strides, but were keenly aware that life keeps moving and new struggles materialize that have to be addressed. They remembered the past, but they did not get stuck there. Rather, they learned from it and built on it to create a better tomorrow for themselves and others. Their play consisted of: "A handful of characters who gathered for a 10-year high school reunion and discussed their lives. They talked about peer pressure, teen pregnancy, drugs, suicide, and dropping out, contrasted with calls for self-discipline, education and personal respect." This was their way of bridging the past to the present in a seamless fashion, all the while highlighting the needs of those who were oppressed and underserved.
The past can inform us and/or teach us, but it cannot sustain us. The substance of life is change, and we must move forward or wither. "We can draw lessons from the past, but we cannot live in it." Lyndon B. Johnson Amen!
1. Cliches ring hollow when you are trying to learn from the past and to go forward. Most common is the cliche "hindsight is 20/20." Okay, we can agree that most times "hindsight is 20/20." But, one does not have the advantage of hindsight when experiencing a situation in real time. You act based on the circumstances you find yourself in at the time. It is not fair to beat yourself up later when you have had time to replay the matter over and over and assess where you erred and fill in information that was not available to you at the time. The past is called the past for a reason. It is behind you. Don't dwell there. No amount of rethinking will change anything. "I can't. You can't rewrite the past." Jay Asher
2. Pay it forward. How many times have you heard, "If I had it to do over, I would...." Stop right there; no need to complete that thought. You do not have it to do over. Besides, you would probably do the same thing. I once saw an episode on the Twilight Zone, where a man was transported back in time and he had knowledge that President Abraham Lincoln was going to be assassinated. He did his best to try and warn everyone of the awful fate that awaited the President. Rather than anyone heeding the warning, the authorities locked him up as a suspect and kept him in custody until the awful deed was done. So much for traveling back with foreknowledge! I know that is fiction, but what makes us think that we would do any better? We'll never know. What we can do is learn from the past and use this to help someone else. Please rent the movie "War Room." You will be entertained and edified. The main character is a prayer warrior, and she decides to help a young realtor; who is hired to help her sell her home, and who is having marital problems. It is extraordinary how she, through prayer, and the wisdom of experience helped this young woman transform her marriage. At some point, she confessed to the young lady that she was not able to save her own marriage, but she knew that what she had learned could help someone else. She paid it forward.
3. Your future awaits; do not endanger it with the burden of memories that keep you weighted down. Face it; life happens to everyone. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Either way, it is out of our control. If you are harboring any envy, ill will, or guilt over past personal missteps, etc., etc, ask God for forgiveness. And, then forgive yourself and go on. "No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead." Philippians 3:13. If you are always looking back, you will miss what's in front of you. There is a plan for your future; step into it as you treasure lessons learned from the past. "I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord," plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11.
The past is gone, tomorrow is not promised. Live each day to the fullest; God will take care of tomorrow!
On a personal note: The Lord has done a new thing! He has sent my family "Joy in the morning," on February 15, 2018." Happy 1st birthday to Journey Robbi-Joy Hill, my newest grandchild. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
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FYI: The book signing for my first published novel, "Rescue Me" is being held at Dia & Noche, 640 McLean Avenue, Yonkers, NY 10705, from 3:00 pm - 7:00 pm., on March 17, 2019. You are cordially invited!