Haunted By The Past

By Edwin Christiaan

Sometimes, when we find ourselves at the stepping stone of something new to take place in our lives, we realize we are haunted by a bad memory from the past that effectively hinders our further progress. For some people, bad memories from the past can even dominate their lives completely, making them feel like they are living in a constant nightmare, with ugly thoughts and dreams always coming back to haunt them. They cannot seem to be able to forget the past and move on.

Bad memories are held in our minds beyond a conscious effort, and the human body responds to these memory images through dreaming, and gets an outlet from behaving in a certain way – like crying, screaming, escaping, and turning inward – to name a few.

Some people, who once committed a horrible deed, are consumed with racing thoughts, even though they know they can no longer change it. It makes them feel tired, burdened, and hopeless, regretfully placing harsh blame on themselves for the past failures, with words like: “I am not good for nothing,” “I hate myself for what I have done,” “God will never forgive me,” “I am doomed,” and, “There is no hope for me.”

The question is: How do we learn to move on from our bad experiences of the past?

As we grow up being nurtured by our mother, she intends for us to be protected from any and all possible harm that might come to us, which is good. But, we can also grow up feeling so entitled, so protected, and with such high expectations to life and people around us that we don’t expect anybody to hurt us, to make mistakes, or to treat us wrong. When they do – which they naturally will – the only way to move on from that experience is to forgive. People who haven’t learned to forgive others and forgive themselves, are poorly equipped for life because the miracle of forgiveness sets us free from the hurt of the bad experience.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT

We must learn to forgive people and ourselves, and even the frustrations we might have toward God for allowing certain things to happen to us, like God has mercifully forgiven us through Christ – a forgiveness that no longer reminds people or ourselves of the past sins, but truly lets them go.

And I will forgive their wrongdoings, and I will never again remember their sins. Hebrews 8:12 NLT

Then He adds, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” Hebrews 10:17 NLT

Even though we can still remember, or have flashes of, bad memories from the past, forgiveness actually heals the hurtful emotional association linked to the bad memories. And because of the forgiveness we choose to give to ourselves or others, God can take us through a process of restoration, so that we are no longer controlled by the pain associated with the memory. The memory becomes just a memory, without the power to take over and rule our minds like before.

Let’s look at the example of the apostle Paul, who had every reason to want to forget the past, since he was involved in the persecution and murder of Christians before he became a believer in Jesus. Paul received forgiveness for what he had done and chose not to dwell on the past guilt, but instead decided to move on to a life of hope, faith, obedience, and real meaning in Christ.

This is the way he put it:

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven. Philippians 3:12-14 NLT

God wants us to overcome the power of the past by gazing at His Word for our future, knowing that He has wonderful plans for each and every one of us, no matter what we have been through. Every day is a new chance at life, and we should never let the past rule our present time and our future, because God says to us:

For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

Copyright©2009 Edwin & Sophia Christiaan