Isn’t it time to let go of the crap and grab hold of the good?
The aging married couple glared at the counselor across the desk. Apprehension etched worry-lines on each face. Less than ten minutes into the session the counselor knew he would earn his fee. This couple teetered on the verge of a collapsing marriage. The counselor announced the next session would focus on specific reasons their marriage lived in the red zone.
Next week, as the couple came into the office, the wife lugged four large datebooks. She slammed them onto the counselor’s desk. Catching her breath she announced here was a complete record of every wrong her husband had done in their entire marriage. He was a bad husband and she had proof. On any date in their thirty year marriage she could flip open the page and recall the sin of her dejected partner.
Clearing his throat, the marriage expert told her she must hand the books over to him so he could throw them out. He declared she must forget the past. Eyes bulging from her sockets, the desperate housewife declared, “No, I will never let these go. These are mine.”
You can never embrace your wonderful future until you let go of your horrible past.
My story is not unique. Many people bear wounds and scars from the past. I tell a small part of my story to validate what you will read later. People look at my life and assume I had a normal childhood. “What would he know about being emotionally scarred?” What do I know about being hurt? Trust me. By the time I entered high school I had a PhD in hurt-ology.
In my childhood I am always seven years old. My closest family members laugh when I tell stories of my young past. Why? They know what’s coming. I am always seven. Memories before seven do not exist. The blank pages in my mind flash like a red warning sign indicating an unknown something went horribly wrong.
At the age of seven (I warned you) I learned that when you cry in the darkness while laying on your back, tears flow down the side of your cheeks and fill your ears.
Why was I crying? Who knows? It happened so often. Maybe it was a night mom and dad had another fight. Maybe dad wasn’t home because he was getting drunk athe Bungalow. Maybe that night he passed out in his puke puddle. Maybe it was the night dad pulled my pants and underwear down in front of friends and whipped me with his black leather belt. Maybe that was one of the nights he fondled me. Who knows?
That was my life.
In junior high dad burst into my room at 3:00 AM, awaking me from a deep sleep. He sat on the edge of my bed accusing me of doing things that even today my lack of courage forbids me to reveal. His anger and insane accusations crushed me. When he walked out, it occurred to me dad’s irrational madness had reached a level that he might try to kill me in my sleep. For weeks I slept with a knife under my pillow as I anticipated the deadly attack.
The hurt and pain grew.
One afternoon, while dad was at work, mom asked for my help. The task? We needed to hide dad’s 20 gauge shotgun shells. Why? A boy should never hear his mom say she is afraid dad plans to kill his family. As I write, 45 years later, I find myself wondering if the owner of the house ever discovered the boxes of shotgun shells hidden in the cold air return?
The hurt and pain accumulated.
In the early years dad drove a truck to pay the bills. This meant we were free from his threatening presence for several days in a row. Those were the good days. When dad put miles on his truck I could sleep with both eyes shut. Once in a while he did not return on time. What if he never returned? I began to hope he wouldn’t. I asked God to let my dad be killed in a traffic accident. This is terrifying to admit. But love for my dad had died. Trust me, the love of a young son for his dad doesn’t die easily.
The hurt and pain threatened to cripple me.
How long would these events haunt you? How long would you harbor bitterness and resentment? If this had happened to you would you ever be able to get over what I’ve just described?
I’m one of the lucky ones. I let go of the past so I could embrace the future. I broke free of the painful past and embraced a wonderful future. And so can you.
What’s Your Story?
I’m guessing you too have been deeply wounded and hurt. And your wounds may be much deeper than those I experienced.
After decades serving as a minister I’ve learned everyone has a story, including you. Every person has reason to nurse on the milk of bitterness. You’ve been wounded in action. Those chips on your shoulder are like proud scars proving you survived.
- You were sexually abused.
- Your best friend stabbed you in the back.
- Your mother could have starred in her version of “Mommy Dearest.”
- Your lover cheated on you.
- Your boss hates you.
- Your dog thinks your left leg is a fire hydrant.
Over the years, the grudges, the hurts, and your pain became your default reason for never achieving success or happiness. It’s not your fault. It’s their fault. You’ve been hurt, scarred, and marred. How could anyone ever expect you to be happy? I get it.
Here are three words you need to hear but everyone is afraid to tell you: “GET OVER IT.” Ouch. I know that hurt. But you needed someone to say it to you. I’m not being insensitive. I’ve been where you are right now. But you need to get on with your life.
Why let go of the past? You can never embrace your wonderful future, until you let go of your horrible past. [Click to Tweet]
Like an erupting volcano, her words spewed into the air the acrid stench of bitterness. The story she told happened forty years earlier. Her minister husband became involved in an affair. They divorced. As the telling of her story unfolded, she revealed names of people who had been part of the ugly mob which ran her family out of the church. She could never go back to the church. Forty years later the pain still paralyzed her. But after all those years most of the offenders were either dead or no longer in the area. And yet they still controlled her behavior.
When you hang onto bitterness that long, it starts to rot your soul. Is your soul starting to rot?
The ancient Romans knew how to hurt their enemies. For a form of extreme punishment they would take a dead body and strap it on the back of a prisoner. As the human carcass rotted it started to decompose the living flesh of the prisoner. This is what happens to people who hang on to the poison of the past.
You have a story. There are parts of your story which brought incredible joy. But some caused deep pain. The longer you hang on to the hurt the more it destroys your life.
Here’s what life taught me. You can never embrace your wonderful future, until you let go of your horrible past.
4 Principles For Letting Go of the Past So You Can Embrace Your Future
1. Make Sure you Want To Get Well
The Bible tells the story of Jesus encountering an invalid laying next to a pool known for its curative power. Legend said when the waters started to churn an angel was hovering above. Those who entered the pool as the waters churned would experience a miraculous healing. This man had been there 38 years. But he had never gotten in the pool soon enough.
Jesus asks what appears to be the dumbest question of all time: “Do you want to get well?” Why wouldn’t a cripple of 38 years want to get well? Think about it. Maybe he had embraced his misery. Like a worn out pair of slippers he had found comfort in his infirmity. He had learned how to leverage his lameness into a meager income. Begging didn’t pay much but it paid the bills. Did he really want to get well? This was not a dumb question, but a penetrating one.
Do you really want to get well? Maybe you’ve hung on to the past so long that pain, anger, bitterness is all you know. It is your world. You’ve learned to adapt. Why worry about it now? You’ve managed to survive. Deep down inside you like being miserable so much you will never change. Never. If that describes you, save some time and stop reading. Crawl back into your ragged cloak of self pity.
But you must decide it is time to change. Dare to leave the past behind. I promise you this: if you let go of your horrible past you will then be able to embrace your wonderful future. Admit it. It’s time to get well.
2. Realize When You Harbor Bitterness Toward Someone Who Hurt You It Only Hurts You.
If your plan is to punish your offenders by hating them you ought to think again. If you are holding a grudge to “teach them a lesson” you ought to reconsider your strategy. Hating those who hurt you and holding a grudge against them only brings pain to you.
Haven’t you had enough pain?
Here’s the real question: how long will you allow them to have power over you? By hanging on to the pain you allow the offenders to hurt you again and again.
You might be surprised to learn many of your offenders are unaware of the level of your pain. And it’s even possible, if they do know, they just don’t care. Your continued hatred of them doesn’t punish them. They are not laying awake at night worried about your pain. You are only hurting yourself.
Refusing to let go of the past means handing over too much power to those who hurt you. Answer this question: “Why do I allow the actions of people from my past to cripple me today?”
Stop trying to hurt the ones who hurt you. You are only creating additional pain for yourself.
3. Confront the Person Who Hurt You with Forgiveness
THIS IS TOUGH. You might say it’s impossible. Listen to me. You can do this.
I harbored hatred and resentment toward my dad for many years. But one day all of that changed. I called him on the phone. It was time to have a chat.
My confrontation strategy was to come in from the back door. I apologized to my dad for not being the kind of son I should have been. And it was true. Because of his actions toward me I shut him out. I cut him off. I pretended he didn’t exist. That was wrong.
When I apologized, he responded with one sentence: “I was the one who failed.” He didn’t linger long on his confession. He didn’t ask me to forgive him. He didn’t break down in tears. The conversation quickly shifted to more comfortable territory. Only one sentence composed of six words. But it was enough. I had confronted the one who brought me much pain. Mission accomplished.
And in that moment I became free.
I don’t know who you need to confront. It might be more difficult than what I needed to do. Your situation is different. There might even be an element of danger. Tread cautiously. A direct confrontation might only make things worse instead of better.
If your situation is potentially volatile here’s an idea. Capture all of your thoughts in a letter. (This also works for trying to let go of the pain caused by someone who has died.) Write with boldness. Cry. Beat the table with your fist. Let it all out. Now is the time to bring the pus to the surface.
Holding the letter in your hand, you now must make a decision. Will you let go of the pain or will you hang on? This is your defining moment. If you really want to get well you must let go.
- It’s time to get creative.
- Light a match and burn it.
- Tear it into tiny pieces and flush it down the toilet like the crap it is.
- Run it through the office shredder.
- Soak it in water, place it in the freezer, remove when frozen and smash it into a thousand pieces with a hammer.
I can see it in your eyes as you read. You are getting it. This is starting to click. You can only embrace your wonderful future when you let go of your horrible past.
You might need to write several letters or have conversations with more than one person. Here’s my best advice: repeat until you are at peace with everyone on your hurt list.
4. Walk Into The Future Free From the Past
Hanging up the phone after talking to my dad, I knew the chains had fallen off. The twin shackles of resentment and anger fell to the ground. From that moment I became a different person. I breathed the air of freedom.
Now comes to the fun part. If you followed the previous steps, you have empty hands. For the first time in many years you can now grab onto your wonderful future today. A new day is dawning.
Breath deeply. Again. One more time. Did you smell it? Doesn’t the fresh, clean air of freedom smell invigorating?
You are no longer defined by your past. The offenders of yesterday no longer hold power over you. Your energy spent on hatred and bitterness will now find more constructive uses.
I’m excited for you.
You will still face times of doubt. The clouds of despair will want to reassemble. But refuse to give them power. Do not surrender your freedom. Move forward into the future with great confidence.
This is a new beginning for you. You can do this. I did. So can you. In extreme cases you may need to see a counselor. Do whatever it takes to let go of the past. I’m here for you. Let me know how I can help.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
(If you know anyone who might find this information helpful please consider sharing it so they might be set free.)