How can you overcome your past?

This article was originally written by American Bible Society

Have you ever felt weighed down by your past? The decisions we make often have lingering effects. They can give us heavy “baggage” to carry into our current relationships. They can linger unresolved in our psyches—showing up uninvited in our dreams. Our pasts affect how we view the world, at times making us feel unsafe or insecure. They touch our core identity—affecting how we view ourselves, often burdening us with guilt, shame or fear. Triggered memories can send us spiraling.

How can we overcome such cycles and not get crushed under the weight of the past?

Coming Home to God’s Grace

As we turn to Scripture, we discover that we are not alone in this question. The people of Israel had a long list of regrets. They were God’s beloved nation, meant to live as an example to others and be a light to surrounding people groups. But they often fell short. And their mistakes had long-lasting, devastating repercussions.

The Bible records cycle after cycle of the people of Israel following God faithfully for a short time, then turning away to follow idols. The books of Judges and Kings include a litany of leaders who either led the people obediently or led them into wickedness. Even faithful leaders like King David made poor decisions (one case is in 2 Samuel 11). Again and again, God handed the people over to their enemies for their rebellion. Again and again, God invited them to remember their covenant and return. Until finally, God sends Babylon to destroy their capital and carry them into a seventy-year exile.

What happens when you return to God after making “mistakes” or acting disobediently? What happens when you recognize the pain your decisions have caused and you come home to God’s grace?

This may be the point when we struggle the most with painful memories, marred identity, shame and loss. How can we let go of the past and move forward into the healing God promises?

Finding a New Way to Remember

We can follow the same instructions God gave the people of Israel when they were finally brought home from exile. God urged them to engage in the new life emerging in and around them. “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago,” God says through the prophet Isaiah. “Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now!” (Isaiah 43:18-19, GNTD).

This doesn’t simply mean wiping a memory from our mind. In fact, remembering is an important part of Israel’s history. Earlier in this passage, God evokes powerful images from their past—leading the people out of exile in Egypt, providing for them during their difficult years in the dessert (Isaiah 43:14-17). Remembering serves a purpose—it helps the people recall God’s faithfulness so they will choose to follow God in the present. We do this when we remember the way God has led us out of our past mistakes, delivered us from the destructive nature of sin and brought us back into God’s family.

This kind of remembrance is not about ruminating over the past or continuing to experience punishment or suffering. It does not mean we have to keep asking for forgiveness or paying penance. Instead, true remembrance invites us to press into our new reality of life lived in union with God. We are free! God has restored our joy. As recipients of Jesus’ new covenant, remembrance calls us to keep claiming the healing, wholeness and life available to us through Christ’s resurrection.

Pressing On Toward the Upward Call

The apostle Paul explains this well when he says:

“I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above” (Philippians 3:12-14, GNTD).

Paul, one of the major persecutors of the early church, didn’t let his imperfections or mistakes prevent him from living into his present reality. He didn’t let his sin set him back. Instead, he looked to Christ—setting his focus on things above and ahead. He kept going. He did his best to run the race, straight toward the goal of life found and hidden in Christ with God (Colossians 3:3).

How can you overcome your past? Set your focus on Christ rather than the events of your past. Let the memory of your sins keep propelling you back to God’s love. Press into the new life that is coming to fullness in and around you. Live into the resurrection. Let God prove faithful—in bringing you back from times of disobedience and restoring your soul (Psalm 23:3). Press on towards the upward call—your life is found and hidden in God’s grace.