Holding On to Our Past Keeps Us from Moving Forward

Picture yourself standing at the entrance to a trail. Now start walking. Take in the sights, the sounds, the smells that surround you. Do you know where this trail is leading you? Is there a reward at the end, perhaps a beautiful scenic overlook?

Now stop. Look around, and ask yourself, “How did I get here?” Did you walk backward? Did you spend your time spinning in circles? Were your feet planted to one spot? Chances are you pictured yourself moving forward, one step at a time. If this seems like common sense, then let me ask you another question:

Why do we tend to get stuck in our walk with the Lord?

I am a sentimental person. I love looking back into yesterday and remembering all the fun things that happened. I constantly find myself back in Taipei, Taiwan or Tokyo, Japan, my all time favorite vacation. I long to be back there, miss the feeling those countries gave me. Somehow they felt peaceful. There are other vacations I have enjoyed and at times have been transported back to including the year my family drove from NY State to Arizona. I think about the different terrains we drove through as we made our way down and back: plains, deserts, mountains. What a great feeling it was, and quite the learning experience.

I like to flip through photos of times gone by, of my friends in high school or college, my children when they were tiny, my dad when he was still alive. Sometimes I lose myself in these memories.

There are those times when I look back at the not-so-good as well. Vicious echoes of the past play in my head, memories of anger, frustration, hurt, embarrassment. I linger on the feelings that rise up with each individual memory, feelings I would have gladly left in the past. I think of a few employers who I felt wronged me, of the man whom my family welcomed into our lives who ended up hurting us the most. I think of the things I could have said or done differently so that I wouldn’t have felt embarrassed or stupid.

Sometimes I sit and wonder, “If only.” “If only I had buckled down in college and graduated,” “If only I had treated my body better,” “If only….” But those times are gone now. I can no longer touch them, so why bother focusing on them?

Here’s the thing: It’s perfectly fine to look back. After all, we hear constantly that we must learn from history or it will repeat itself. But how far should we take this? How long do we look back, and how often?

If we are constantly looking back, spending more time in our past than our present, how can we live our lives today? How can we move forward? If we’re always looking back, we get stuck.

Reminiscing is great. It’s fun to remember, and it’s even more fun to do this with friends or family. I, personally, have always been a huge fan of stories of the past (especially when they were or are about my siblings doing something odd…man I love those people). But we already lived there.

Holding on to our regrets mires us. We remain stuck, unable to move when we can’t let go of grudges of the past. Our thoughts are focused on the wrong thing. We need to learn to let go.

Once upon a time, our past was our present. Somehow we survived it, and we moved on. We started the next chapter of our lives or even the next few. How did we get here? We got here by looking ahead more than looking back.

God wants us to look at the old so that we can learn, but more importantly, he wants us to move forward. We were not made to stand still, to be left behind. He says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). All things new. If we don’t look we’ll miss all that he is doing, for “his mercies…are new every morning” (Lam 2:22-23).

The path of God does not go backward, only forward. It does not spin in place. God’s ready for us to move on, to embrace what’s to come and leave what’s behind. In the words of my favorite meerkat Timon, “You got to put your past behind you.” In the words on Paul to the Philippians:

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”

Philippians 3:13

So today, right now, let’s decide to let go of what has already come to pass and let’s move forward into the new mercies God has for us. God wants to show us all that he is making new, and he wants to make you new every morning.

Grab hold of all he is doing in your life, and don’t let go. Hold onto it as the gift it’s meant to be. I know it’s not easy. God’s path isn’t. But it’s good. And he wants us to move. He wants you to move. Will you let him help you?

Lord, please help me to look ahead, to keep my eyes on you as I move forward in this life. I don’t want to get stuck because I can’t leave my past behind. Help me, Lord, to trust in you, and to follow where you lead. Your ways are good, Lord, and for that I thank you. Lord, give me the strength to walk boldly into my future. In your name I pray, Amen.

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4 thoughts on “Holding On to Our Past Keeps Us from Moving Forward

  1. Great post. Makes us all think because I believe at one time or another we all get “stuck” moving back, when we should just be taking a glimpse and then moving forward. Thank you for making me think deeply about this?

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