I am pretty sure anyone who is reading this article right now can honestly say there have been times when you have looked back at life and wished you could get a 'do over'! Maybe not a complete do over but there are probably a few moments in time, if given the opportunity to change a decision or two, all of us would take advantage of the chance to do it over. Though we may look back with wishful thinking and a grimace, we know right well to go back and get a 'do over' is not possible. We must forge ahead in full assurance that the past has become what it was meant to become here in our future. The past, in all it's glory, has and always will have its relevance only in the here and now, that is, if we let it. We are but a summation of every past decision we have ever made, both good and bad, right and wrong, and everything inbetween. So life, as we know it today, hangs in this precarious balance of living in the past or living in the present.
Many people say, 'Forget the past' (as though this is possible), but I say do not forget the past but cherish the past and grow from it.Truly we cannot get rid of the past and neither may we forget it. No matter how much we may try to run from the past or ignore it, our past is always with us. The most difficult thing concerning the past is most people live IN the past so much they are no longer able to enjoy the moments of every new day. Consumed by its hurts and grudges, the past constricts every new day's outcome to its tunneled vision and leaves no room for a fresh outlook. It's no wonder the Good Book says to not let the 'sun go down upon our wrath' or that anger rests in the bosom of a fool, because we are emotional beings and whatever emotion we give ourselves to will become who we are. If we hold on to every past event of hurt and pain, then our future will be ladden with its burden of vengeance or forever trying to right how we feel we have been wronged. Life then, instead of being lived in the liberty of God's breath of grace, is consumed by the hopelessness of yesterday's sorrows. And herein is the point, what can we really do about yesterday? Can we go back and change yesterday? The obvious answer is no we can't go literally back but today I propose we use yesterday's history to be a better person today!
Confucius said, “Study the past if you would define the future.” The only thing we can truly do with the past is to learn from it and seek its hidden and unhidden revelations of how to live and enjoy the moments of today. Like the steam shooting out of a boiling kettle our lives are like a vapor, for life appears for a little while, then vanishes away right before our eyes. Living in the past eats up the valuable steam of today and dulls the power of our future. But if we live and learn from our past, if we study our past and take all the good we can out of it, then we can truly enjoy the power of today and all the richness that comes with every living moment. If we can 'see' that every mistake we have made has a silver lining in it, then we can use the energy every mistake to propel the wheels of our future forward. When you place your hand in a fire, not only do you learn it can burn, which in turn causes pain, but it also teaches you not to touch the fire again, but that does not mean you never go near fire again or use it for it's good. No, you take what you have learned and harness the strengths of the fire and use it for your good. This is a picture of what we need to do with our past. Just like getting burned the first time by fire, you never look at fire the same way again, so should our view of our past mistakes in life. Sure, our mistakes may have 'burned' us, but that doesn't mean we cannot use the heat of our hurts to see life in a different manner and use the energy gained from those mistakes to frame and remake our future.
The paradox of our past is that our lives truly can only be viewed by looking backward and yet our lives can only and must be lived going forward. No matter how much we try to avoid the past, the past is never dead and its not even past. Since the past is here now, then one way or another, we are always dealing with it. We are either living in it's fatal grip by trying to 'change' the past by continually bringing the past into the here and now or we are seeing the beauty of the past for it's ability to teach us and guide us into a better today.
Many times when I 'look back' and see all my flaws, inadequacies, and mistakes, I say within myself, if I could have changed that one decision or get a 'redo' at this one specific point in my life, how things would be so different; but inevitably, when I am able to step back like this and see the 'mistakes' within the span of a half century of living, then and only then, can I see my past in its proper place. For every mistake has made me who I am today and if I find that if I could go back, I wouldn't because in some weird way it all makes sense and has made me who I am today. So here I stand today, emboldened with the knowledge of my past and renewed in it's energy of understanding, I am moving forward into a better today. From this moment on, I refuse to let my past eclipse the dawning of each new day, but will bask in the illuminating light of it's revelation and enjoy the brightness of my future.