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“Spare yourself the torture of raking over the past,

but use the lessons well.

Nothing in your past is wasted.

It all prepares you for now.” – Anon

How often do we “rake over the past” and miss the lesson? All too often, I fear. The problem for most of us is that when we think about a difficult situation from the past, we conclude that another person is the one who needs to learn the lesson. He or she should have been more patient/accepting/loving/responsible, etc. Perhaps that is true. However, we gain nothing from determining how other people have failed. Our past only benefits us when we use it to learn lessons about ourselves.

Think about those people who you consider to be wise. I suspect that they are the unique few who have learned from their past, but don’t rake over (obsess about) it. To that end, the following are ways to approach your past so that instead of wasting it, you can use it to prepare for a wonderful future…

  1. When It Comes to the Past, Forgive Yourself. The reality is that it is easy to forgive others. What is hard is to forgive ourselves. We have a hard time forgiving ourselves for allowing someone else to hurt us. And we have an even harder time forgiving ourselves if we have hurt someone else. So instead of facing our own sin and imperfections, we obsess over how the other person wronged us. Or we reason that the other person “made” us hurt them. All of this reasoning is a distraction from learning how to love, accept and forgive ourselves.
  2. Other People’s Personal Growth Is Not Your Issue. It isn’t your job to analyze other people’s mistakes. Nor is it your job to correct other people (outside of your minor children). Your only job on this earth is to become the best possible person that you can be. So when you think about the past, focus solely on what you can learn about yourself. What are the areas in which you need to improve? Determine what those are, and then then work on those areas through prayer, reading and perseverance.
  3. The Past Does Not Define Your Future. Just because you got divorced, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a successful marriage in the future. Just because you were fired, that doesn’t mean that you can’t be great at your next job. Failing at something once doesn’t mean that you someday cannot succeed. Success in life isn’t about doing things perfectly the first time. People who ultimately are successful learn from their mistakes, improve and try again.
  4. Take Ownership of Your Mistakes. We can’t learn from our mistakes if we don’t admit that we made them in the first place. For example, very often when a relationship ends, I hear the same lament: Well, she (or he) was just crazy! Perhaps they were, but out of the millions of people in the world, you chose to have an intimate relationship with a difficult or unbalanced person. That was your choice. Take ownership of your bad choices so that you can make better ones in the future.
  5. Learn and Then Let Go. Very often people will say that they’ve let something go, but they are still talking about it! If you still talk about your ex-spouse, you haven’t let go of your divorce. If you keep a box of photos of your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, you haven’t let go of that relationship. If you mention every year that your parents forgot your birthday when you were 12, you haven’t let that go either. Letting go means that we stop talking about the past. Letting go means that we give up all the little knickknacks associated with the past and literally make room for the future.

None of us goes through life unscathed. Everyone has disappointments and hurt. The question is not whether we will have problems, but when. The beauty of the above quote is that it speaks so clearly as to how we can use our inevitable challenges to our benefit. By not obsessing about the past, but instead learning from it, we truly can have an incredible present and future.

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