Overcoming Our Past #2
In the last post I talked about personal burdens that can become overpowering – mistakes, sins, bad use of time and money, damaged relationships. These burdens can become so overpowering that if people can’t overcome them, they may try a number of coping mechanisms that are not very healthy, such as drinking or doing drugs, gambling, shopping, or a number of other things to try to alter their emotional states. Some give up the fight and resign themselves to a lifetime of anger and resentment. Neither approach is good for the long haul. Is there anything we can do to overcome our past? Yes.
In Philippians 3:12-14 Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have already taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
We might hold Paul in a revered position since he was an apostle, but notice what he says about his current state: he says he has not been made perfect, he has not attained the full measure of maturity in Christ, and he has not taken hold of the prize yet. Even as an apostle Paul, like us, is still in this “in-between” ground, that land where we leave the past behind and reach for the future God has for us.
How do we live meaningfully in this current realm, though, when pressing burdens threaten to discourage and overwhelm us? How do we overcome a past we are tethered to? Paul does two things. One, “Forgetting what is behind.” (V.13). Simply, Paul doesn’t allow himself to dwell on the past. That may be easy for much of the past, but what about those things that are so embarrassing or painful they are not easy to forget? We may remember the hurtful things others have done to us, and that can cause us anger. Or, we might remember the hurtful things we have done to others, and that causes us grief and shame. Then there are the hurtful things we have done to ourselves, and that makes us feel, well, dumb.
If we can’t forget, there are still two positive things we can do. First, learn what we can from those past experiences, especially the most painful ones. What false assumptions did we hold? What mistakes did we make? How would we handle similar situations differently in the future? Secondly, we can process the past in positive and productive ways. Use those events as opportunities for growth and relationship building. To do this we might ask ourselves, “Is there anything in the past for which I need to repent, make amends, or provide restitution?” These are positive, proactive steps that will move us from guilt and shame to healthier attitudes.
After dealing with the past in positive ways, Paul then looks forward, “straining toward what is ahead” (v.13) and “pressing on toward the goal” (v.14). Paul keeps in mind in forward progress toward the future reception God has for him.
The burdens of this world can weigh us down, strangle us, discourage us and sweep us off the path of life. But we don’t have to let them do that. We can forget what is behind, or at least learn from it, and press on to what is ahead. What is ahead is life, and we surely don’t want to miss out on that. And we don’t have to, when we follow Paul’s prescription and we rely upon God’s power in our lives.