Updated: Feb 19
Do you ever feel like your life is shaped by the past? A few months ago, as I got chatting with my students in class, we ended up discussing how significant events in our past might have shaped our decisions moving forward. A young student, in her early 20s, shared that when she was younger she’d always imagined she would get married and have children and lead the typical family life. However, that had all changed and only a few years later she knew she never wanted to have children and was pretty sure she wasn’t going to get married. This was because her parents had divorced and the hugely negative impact of that weighed so heavily on her, that she believed her own life would be repeated in the same way and then impressed onto her own children.
It is not uncommon for someone else’s series of decisions and actions to affect and shape our future in significant ways which will result in our lives being shaped by the past. At other times, our own detrimental actions or decisions from the past end up becoming our current identity and lead us to navigate our way through life trying to avoid anything that might take us down a similar course again. These negative experiences tend to live with us, whisper lies to us, and cause us to live in fear of never being able to do things differently.
I believe there are two facts that we all need to be aware of; the first is that other people’s (even parents or close family members) actions, decisions and mistakes do not determine who we are. We are our own person, designed uniquely with a life path that is specifically ours. And the second is that, even though we may have done or experienced massively regrettable things in our past, they don’t define our future. Our journeys are not defined by our mistakes, they’re defined by the One who created us. Psalm 139:16 from the Bible says “Your eyes saw my unformed substance;in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
There’s a popular children’s book, and a favourite among my own two kids, called “Going on a bear hunt”. It’s all about a family who sets out to find a bear and on their journey they encounter various obstacles, like a storm, mud, a forest etc. and the chant about these obstacles, through the book is “we can’t get over it, we can’t get under it… we’ve got to go through it”. This makes me think of how we often look at negative things we go through. We would rather forget about them, push them to the back of our mind, or sweep them under the carpet of our heart in an effort to just skip past it all. But we will never truly move on from them, stop hearing the lies, or be able to change until we “go through it” i.e deal with the root of it. This can be icky, painful, scary and uncomfortable, but once we’re out the other side, we are lighter and freer!
Here are some ways we can check whether we shaped by the past and how we can effectively deal with these issues:
1) Acknowledge our weaknesses: Being vulnerable, I believe, shows real strength of character. It is something I have struggled with personally and have had to learn how to be. I’m still a work in progress! Being able to look at ourselves as if we are looking into a mirror, and seeing the areas we messed up, the ways we got it wrong, and acknowledging our need for help is a key step in moving forward. Not one of us has the ability to go through life independently without needing support and without making mistakes. The question is, have we put our hand up and given that cry for help?
2) Talk to the right people: This leads us to the next tip. It’s so crucial to surround ourselves with the right people in times of crisis (or any time really!). Sometimes we are drawn to those who will tell us what we want to hear, feed our egos, affirm our bitterness and pat our backs. That may feel momentarily good, but in the long run, it won’t suffice. We need friends and family around that are willing to tell us the truth, challenge us and help us to believe what’s true about ourselves and our situation. This may be hard to hear or may even take a few conversations before we are ready to truly believe them, but if it happens, it comes from a place of love and will lead to us moving forward. Have you got the right people around you? The ones who love you enough to speak the truth?
3) Let go of the bitterness: This is probably one of the hardest things to do. We hold on because it affirms how we are feeling and often justifies the decisions we make in our future. But when I picture holding onto bitterness, I picture a fist clenched around a sharp object, and as we grasp onto it so tightly it starts to make us bleed. Sometimes we aren’t even aware it’s there, because we are so used to it. It causes us pain and hinders us from living wholly. Unless we unclench that fist, let go of the sharp object and deal with the blood flow, bandage it up so we can get use of our hand back, the pain will only get worse. Letting go of bitterness often means forgiving. Forgiving someone who has hurt us (even if they haven’t asked for forgiveness) or sometimes forgiving ourselves in order to move forward.
4) Look at the good with gratefulness. Good? What good, you may wonder. Every situation will have something for us to be grateful about. That we are alive, that we are healthy, that we aren’t in that situation anymore. Often, if not always, the little blessings, the slight silver linings are forgotten or unseen. It is amazing what a slight change in perspective can do, what an attitude of gratefulness can do. When we start to look at a situation and take away even one, tiny positive thing from it, it can open up a door to freedom that we need to walk through. Seeing this often begins with being vulnerable, allowing the right people to speak into our lives and letting go of the bitterness. So when you begin to do these things, there’ll be little sparks of hope.
There’s something that Rick Warren, author of ‘The purpose driven life’ says, that I wholeheartedly agree with “We are products of our past, but we don't have to be prisoners of it.” So, if there’s one thing to take away from this write-up, let it be that you can be shaped by the past, but it shouldn’t have a hold on you. The only thing that should have a hold on you is Truth. Truth about who you are, who you were created to be, and truth about the one who gives life. The past doesn’t define those things. In the Bible, the book of John 14:1 and 6 it says “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me (Jesus)...I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
He is the one who gives hope, brings change and provides purpose for our lives, that nothing and no one else can.
Jrevolution, is a nonprofit organization working with people of all walks of life to find fulfillment & purpose within their lives by giving them the tools they need to live an impactful purpose driven life. Many people live their day to day lives searching for purpose and meaning, but no matter how many different methods they use to find this, they never seem to obtain it. If this is you - or you are still holding onto or being shaped by the past - you may be in need of a new beginning. Watch Neogenesis series by signing up on our website (www.jrevolution.net) or watch it on YouTube on the below link:
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