Recently, I observed to a friend, “You seem tense.”
He replied, “I have passed tense.”
I said, “Past tense. That’s funny.”
Have you passed tense? Are you beyond stressed? Are you at the tipping point?
Does your being past tense have a lot to do with the past tense? Has yesterday robbed you of today and threatened all of your tomorrows? Do you drag the past around like a ball and chain? Are you on Yesterday’s chain gang, swinging your sledgehammer at the mighty boulders of regret and disappointment?
Is what you suffer the result of something you did or didn’t do? Is someone else to “blame”? Were you wronged? How can you put the past into perspective? How can you put it behind you? How can you find a way today to be the person you aspire to be, to do the things you want and need to do?
One of the first classics I read was John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, an allegory of the Christian life. Christian, the main character, carries a heavy burden with him through most of the tale. Symbolically, that burden is his sin or the knowledge that he is a sinner. He loses his burden at “the wall of salvation,” where he sees the Cross of Jesus Christ.
I heard a preacher use the following illustration of carrying the baggage of the past around, even after giving it to Christ:
A hitchhiker (ok, it was a long time ago when I heard this story) was riding his thumb cross-country when he was picked up somewhere in the desert by a kind stranger. He thanked the man for giving him a ride. The man said he was quite welcome and even offered him a soda and a sandwich from his cooler, which he accepted with gratitude.
A few miles down the road, the driver remarked, “I noticed you did not remove your backpack. It looks heavy. Why don’t you set it in the backseat and rest from the weight of it? Are you afraid I will steal it or steal something out of it?”
The hitchhiker answered, “No sir! I am thankful you gave me a ride. I could not ask you to carry my pack, too.”
Silly as that sounds, that is just how silly it is to think that you need to continue to carry the weights of regret, worry, and anxiety when Jesus gives you a lift.
I have jotted down a few do’s and don’ts for letting go of yesterday in order to seize the opportunity of today and the promise of tomorrow.
Let’s start with the don’ts.
Don’t fall for the “perfect world” syndrome.
“In a perfect world, this would not have happened.”
You are probably right, but this is not a perfect world and it has not been since the serpent slithered into the Garden. This is a broken world filled with broken people. This is a damaged world occupied by the damaged. We do the things we wish we didn’t and don’t do the things we wish we did, and often the things we do or do not do hurt others.
“So-and-so should not have done such-and-such to me.”
I bet you are right. Knowing and repeating that forever will get you nowhere but right there, right there in that place with that knowledge. You were wronged.
So…what now? You are the only one who can answer this question for you. You and no one else.
Don’t lose today because you are stuck in yesterday.
There is no doubt that yesterday may have had far-reaching consequences. A car accident may render you a paraplegic. A shake-up at work may have left you jobless.
God divides our lives, our existence, into markable, trackable segments for a reason. Each new day brings with it an unsullied hope. We have another chance to get it right. To move on. To be happy.
I love the way a well-known bible verse is handled in the Berean Study Bible…
Weeping may stay the night…And isn’t he an unwelcome overnight guest?
Come daylight, however, there is joy. There is hope. There is a brand, spanking new day awaiting your exploration. Get up! Get out! Get on with it!
Don’t fall for the “everything is ruined” lie.
Your hopes may have been dashed on the rocks of bitter disappointment or smashed with the hammer of betrayal. But “everything” is NOT ruined. If it is, God is a liar, the bible is bogus, and you are on your own. There is no help coming if everything is ruined.
Let me give you a few passages to go ahead and cut right out of your bible. You don’t believe them anyway. May as well take your scissors to them and discard them.
I could list so many others, but you get my drift. If everything is ruined by whatever did or did not happen to you, or whatever you did or did not do, then everything was nothing in the first place.
Let me hasten on to my list of Do’s…
Evaluate the cause.
It is good to know what happened and why. What was the immediate cause? What was the root cause? They are seldom the same. The immediate cause is often an action or event. The root cause goes much deeper. I am not saying figure this out so we can assess blame. Assessing blame will not heal a broken heart or mend a torn life. Understanding what happened, however, can give you the insight to avoid the same thing today or tomorrow.
Assess the damage.
What has been damaged? Who has been hurt? What part did I play in it? How can I do my part to mitigate this damage? Am I making more of it than is there? Am I letting it damage me in ways it can only damage me because I let it? How do I protect what has not been damaged?
Employ the remedy.
What is my role in the remedy?
Confession and Repentance if it is something I did, some sin I committed that caused the trouble.
Forgiveness if it is something done to me by another. Even if they do not repent or think they need forgiveness, unforgiveness is my burden to bear, not theirs. It is the chain around my neck. That is why forgiving our debtors is part of the Lord’s model prayer.
Abandonment. Abandon the poor behavior, the twisted logic, the temptation to justify. “Neither do I condemn thee,” Jesus said to the woman caught in the act of adultery. “Go and sin no more.” Just…stop.
Learn from the past.
I mean, I could elaborate but if I need to, I am probably spinning my wheels with this article anyway. Want to get out of the spin cycle? Hit another button. Do something different, something better.
Do you want to talk about a very bad day? Hop on King David’s horse and ride with him a little too late into the village of Ziklag…
There is no criticism like that leveled at a leader during a time of war, especially when things go badly. David is a hero one day and a scapegoat the next. He was a day late. The damage was done. The village was destroyed. Families were split apart. Women and children were taken captive.
These were not kind looks cast David’s way. The whispers were disparaging.
“If he wasn’t such a war-mongerer.”
“Why couldn’t he just compromise with the Amalekites? Better red than dead!”
David could have crumbled when he looked around and found no one empathetic to his position, when he felt the bony finger of blame poking him in the eye.
Instead, he talked to his own brain. He decided he would control his internal conversation. Others could say whatever they want to him. He would speak to himself words of encouragement, words from the Lord God.
My daughter, Holly, has lived her entire life with Spina Bifida. She has fought through major surgeries, sideways looks, people “feeling sorry for her”, disappointing losses, and a degenerative condition, and has risen above it all, not once or twice, but a thousand times, daily, even, to become a person of influence and a symbol of hope to thousands.
I shared this story of David’s with her when she was a young girl and she kept it for herself. Today, I asked her to write me a short testimony about it. She did and here it is…
Life is fluid, like a river, ever running to the sea. Even if you do nothing at all, nothing but float, you are still moving on its current, whether you like it or not. That is how God designed things. That is how He intends them. He does not want us stuck in yesterday, whether it was a day of loss or victory, a time of pain or joy. Remember it. Learn from it. Get better because of it.