How do you deal with your past?

Wooden spiral stairs (Nebotičnik, Ljubljana)

Lately I’m feeling confronted by an uneasy feeling about my journey of asking God for “what’s next” in my life. I know there are many choices and options for what I can do, but there’s a fear that whichever path I choose, I might end up regretting it later on. So during the last couple of weeks, I seized upon opportunities to talk to dear friends and mentors, and as I started telling them about my journey and my fears, they also opened up to me about their own fears and regrets in life. I’m thankful for those honest conversations because it’s not easy to admit to being weak and broken to each other. At the same time, it got me thinking about how I should deal with my fears and my regrets.

Being human, all of us have made terrible mistakes and poor choices in our past. But we need to speak truth into how these regrets reflect where/whom we put our faith and hope in. In 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (CSB), Paul wrote:

I now rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death.

Here, Paul pointed to a “godly grief” that lead to repentance and salvation instead of regrets.

However, recently I’ve seen a rise of so-called “inner emotional healing” ministries that use prayer and teaching that deal with so-called “root issues” of the situations and regrets in one’s past. But in my opinion, even as they claim to be “Christian” and “biblical,” they’re pointing toward what Paul referred to as “worldly grief” instead of “godly grief.”

In thinking about this, I think there are 4 questions I/we need to ask:

1. Am I even qualified to deal with my past?

Some people claim healing starts with searching our repressed memories to identify what went wrong in our past that lead to the negative emotions we feel now. The assumption is that our problems are “bad feelings” or fears or a lack of “inner peace” within us.

However, this is a product of our feel-good culture. The lie is that whatever ails us is the same as whatever makes us feel bad. But Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” And this “sickness” is our sin which separates us from God. Do you know that some forms of sin can make us feel very good? For example, pride can boost our self-esteem. That is why we cannot trust ourselves to identify our problems.

No, we are not even qualified to attempt to probe our past because we are limited beings and we are sinful people. Only God is all-knowing, all-powerful, while being all-good, so only He can diagnose what my real problem is. So we must leave the probing of our hearts to God, as Psalm 139:23-24 says:

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

2. Do I need deliverance from my past, or do I need repentance and sanctification?

Some people say healing comes from “releasing” or “letting go” or finding “deliverance” from your past, which empowers folks to take back control of their lives. And they even teach that this is a Christian thing by using the Bible to justify these principles and techniques.

But all that was just self-help by another name, making the Bible look like a moralistic or a therapeutic book. Instead, God’s Word is not about us, but a revelation of who God is and what He has done in Christ. Our root problem is not bad morals or bad emotions or bad self-esteem or bad behaviors, but our failure to acknowledge God to be in control of our lives.

This is why Paul said that godly grief leads to “repentance” — not something you do once but a continual process/attitude of turning back to God and yielding God the supreme place in our lives.

The change that we need is not so that we can feel good about ourselves, but to be transformed in holiness into the likeness of Jesus. We don’t need those special prayers of deliverance, because God already began the work of sanctification in His followers that will ultimately prepare us to be ready to meet Christ, as 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 says: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

3. Am I content with God’s sovereignty over my past?

For some, our desire to rewrite our past stem from wanting to place blame on circumstances, other people, or even ourselves for preventing us from becoming who we want to be.

However, who we are is not determined by us, but by the Author of our lives. Jeremiah 18:1-6 says that a lump of clay cannot question why the potter made it that way. Psalm 139:16 says God already formed every day of our entire lives even before we’re born. We need to accept God’s sovereignty over how He determined the course of our lives, including what happened in the past and what will happen in our futures.

But why did God make me so weak and so broken? All I can say is His purposes are higher than mine. As His creation, I should be content to be molded in order to display his glory and strength, as 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

4. Do I grab onto self-love or the certainty of God’s love?

I understand the negative emotions and fears that we feel could make us indecisive and affect how we see ourselves. But, sadly, if the goal of this “inner healing” is to generate good feelings, I can guarantee that those warm and fuzzy feelings will not last very long; if the goal is to boost our self esteem, you’ll find before long that you’re still driven by your regrets and fears of how people see you.

I’m glad my Facebook friend Phil nailed it in his recent (excellently written) Facebook post:

I keep a list of things I do wrong, past failures, things I could do better. But, what would getting them right accomplish? My heart tells me I would be less unworthy, more lovable.

Yet, when I dwell on it a bit, I realize the list represents my efforts to be in control. Worse, my list represents a denial of God’s love for me.

His love is wholly undeserved. I cannot do anything to earn it. Only accept it. And love Him in return.

Amen! And to wrap this up, please read 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 which says:

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.