Seasoned author Cathy Madavan suggests that, whatever our history, we can learn from it and move on
Let your imagination run wild for a moment and consider who you would cast to play the role of you in the movie of your life. Who would tell your story well? We all have a story and a past, with glorious highs and crushing lows, success and regrets, joy and sorrow. Personally, I’m just glad a good portion of my story will never hit the silver screen! But our history is part of who we are; we need to own it, understand it and learn from it. Here are five things that have helped me process the past.
1. You don’t dwell there
The wise person does not ignore or deny the past. We won’t learn from what we won’t face, and counselling as well as talking, praying and journalling can be life changing. It is this willingness to deal with what has happened that sets us free to live in the present in peace. I once read a sign saying: “Trying to hurt me by bringing up my past is like trying to rob my old house. I don’t live there anymore.” I love that. What a gift to be able to dwell in the present, having learned from the past. I know I need to continually pray for the grace and wisdom to live in this freedom.
2. Some endings are necessary
In my last book, Irrepressible, I shared twelve principles for a courageous, resilient and fulfilling life. I didn’t know which principles would resonate most, but one I have received consistent feedback about is this: “If the horse is dead, dismount!” It turns out quite a few of us feel we need permission to move on. Many of us are apparently prone to sitting on horses that have expired – projects, commitments, even unhealthy relationships; things that were once trotting along nicely, but now really need to be buried. Yes, it is good to be committed and loyal. Yes, faithfulness is hugely underrated. But, sometimes, ending something is the brave and necessary thing to do – and it is not always a failure. I know I need support on this, but sometimes, honestly, I just need to dismount!
3. Forgiveness is ongoing
Urgh. Forgiving people is so stinking hard. Especially when we confuse forgiving with excusing or forgetting. I am currently in a season of learning to forgive again at a deep level and I am wrestling to ensure I do it daily, because I do not want to become captive to hurt or betrayal. When we are captive, it can cause bitterness or resentment, and result in us spewing out unforgiveness onto others. Since I have been forgiven, I am now called to forgive, however hard that is. Frankly, the only place I can leave some people and experiences is with Jesus, knowing, as I do, that his cross is a place of both justice and mercy.
4. Give thanks daily
The past isn’t all bad, but our brain often remembers the painful moments more clearly than the blessings. This is why I like to practise an attitude of gratitude in my journal, giving thanks for all that is good. The blessings are there when I notice them – some people were kinder than expected, some moments were beautiful and some achievements were surprising. And through every season, God has always been faithful. As you look back at the end of each day, why not pause to give thanks and build on those moments of gratitude?
5. Your history is not your destiny
You’ve heard it before, but I’ll say it again: history does not have to repeat itself. Your past doesn’t necessarily dictate your future. If we believe in redemption and restoration, then our past is past. True enough. However, none of us can fully erase our story, or the effects of it. I now realise that the wonder of my story is that God uses all the mosaic pieces of my life to reveal his strength and love – even the parts I’d most like to forget. Incredibly, where we have received most freedom, forgiveness and comfort, is often where we have the most to offer others. Your history might not be your destiny, but it might just be your ministry.