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Dealing with Painful Memories

Some memories can be painful. In fact, they can be almost as painful and debilitating as physical injuries and diseases if you allow them to be. Memories of past sins can cause guilt, shame, grief, and regret that can hold you like a prisoner. Other memories of tragedies or disappointments can cause fear, anxiety, anger, resentment, and bitterness that lay a heavy burden on you and prevent you from moving forward. How can you overcome such painful memories? The events of such memories are nearly impossible to forget, but is there a way to deal with the past without forgetting it? Thankfully, God has provided ways to handle these memories and the consequences of the past through our Lord Jesus Christ.

First and foremost, if you have unforgiven sins that are the source of your shame and grief, then seek God's forgiveness immediately. Count your blessings, for your tender conscience is giving you godly sorrow, and that will lead you to repentance and salvation (2Cor. 7:10). If you have never obeyed the gospel of Christ through faith, repentance, confession, and baptism, then do so now, and the burden of guilt will be removed from you by God's forgiveness (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:8-10). If you are already a Christian, then repent of your sins and confess them to God, for He is faithful and just to forgive you (1John 1:9).

If you are still burdened with shame due to sins already forgiven, then you need to strengthen your faith in Jesus. Consider again what it means to be forgiven. God has said, "For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (Heb. 8:12). It is Jesus who made this forgiveness possible by dying on the cross (see Isa. 53). If God has forgiven and forgotten your sins, then why are you still holding on to them? Why don't you believe that Christ's sacrifice was more than sufficient to take your guilt away? Understand that salvation is not a matter of you being good enough to be forgiven, but rather it is a matter of believing that Christ is good enough to forgive you. Trust the Lord and let Him take your burden (Matt. 11:28-30).

Of course, a sense of unworthiness and humility is commendable, but you need to direct that sense into the right channels. God does not intend for forgiven sinners to be mired in shame and guilt, but rather He would have you to be thankful and overflowing with joy. Consider the apostle Paul, who had been a persecutor of the church. He did not forget his past sins, but instead he was thankful that the Lord considered him faithful and put him into His service as an example to others who would turn from sin to the Lord (1Tim. 1:12-16). He said, "Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13-14). In Paul's likeness, you also need to leave the past behind and gratefully press on in the service of Christ, for "you were washed...you were sanctified...you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1Cor. 6:11).

If you have painful memories due to tragedies or disappointments of the past, then you need to focus your mind on heavenly things and the glorious promises of God. Consider Colossians 3:1-4:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Notice that again: "Christ is our life." Your life is not about the painful events of the past, but your life now is all about Jesus (Phil. 1:21). You cannot change the past, but you can change what you think about it today. It is not the past that disturbs you, but it is what you think about the past. Stop obsessing over it, and give your mind fully to Christ. To this point, no better advice could be given than that of Philippians 4:6-8:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Furthermore, do not allow your mind to turn even the pleasant events of the past into painful memories. When you long to go back to the "good old days," you cause yourself unnecessary pain in the present. The Scripture says, "Do not say, 'Why is it that the former days were better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this" (Eccl. 7:10). You cannot go back to the past, but you can count your blessings from both the past and present. Don't allow yourself to be troubled because of the good things from former days.

Dealing with painful memories is really a matter of knowing and trusting Jesus, "who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works within us" (Eph. 3:20). God "Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,' so that we confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?'" (Heb. 13:5-6). Therefore, leave the pain of the past behind and trust the Lord today.

Stacey E. Durham




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