I have a friend who suffered terrible abuse as a child. As hard as she tries, she cannot seem to stop thinking about it. She is stuck not only in thoughts of the abuse, but also in anger toward those adults in her life who could have protected her. Each time this comes to mind, she tries to give it to the Lord and move on, but she would really like to know how to put it permanently behind her, and really get on with her life, unburdened by these sad memories.
I understand her dilemma. While I do not have abuse in my memory banks, I do have many regrets about things I have done or left undone, that cannot be changed now. When I allow my mind to dwell on these past sorrows, I can quickly become sad, angry and bitter. The key, at least for me, is in that word, “allow.” The Bible tells me that I do have control of my thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:15). I can take them captive and make them obedient to Christ. But what does that mean? What does our Lord tell us to do with these thoughts? There are three Scripture passages that I routinely go to when my mind goes to these dark places.
The first is Isaiah 43:18-19:
Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.
The very first line of this passage is a direct command: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.” While the context here is the redemption of Israel, I believe it applies to the ways that God will redeem our sins and those who have sinned against us. Bad memories and regrets over past sins are former things. Believer, has God done a new thing in your heart? Are you the same as you were when these bad things happened to you? Even if you were a believer at the time, you are still different now, because God has used that event to mold and shape you according to His good plan for you. You are not the same. You are a new creation, and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), so why would you disobey this loving admonition not to think on those things? By His mercy, you will obey!
The next passage I turn to when regrets or sad memories haunt me is Philippians 3:12-14:
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
The word ‘press’ in this context means to run swiftly, as in a race, to reach the goal. If you are running in a race, you will lose if you keep looking behind you. Do it enough, and you will stumble and fall. If all you do is look behind you, you will get stuck and never reach the goal. This is the picture Paul is painting for us in this passage. Several times in his letters, Paul uses the analogy of running a race, to help us understand our Christian walk. He exhorts us here to forget about what happened in the past, and start reaching forward. Think about Paul’s past. If you think you have regrets, imagine his! We must, like Paul, focus on the goal, which is the upward call of God in Christ. He has called us out of darkness and bondage into His light. Why would we purposely seek darkness in bad memories and anger about the past? While we will never forget the things that have happened to us, joy and freedom are ahead of us. Why would we look back? (Think about Lot’s wife in Genesis 19:26 here, too!)
Finally, John 8:32 ties it all together perfectly:
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
There is no bondage like sorrow and regret. These emotions amplify the whispers of the enemy and feed the lies that we tell ourselves:
“God must not care, or He would have stopped it.”
“I have a right to be angry and stay angry.”
Anything that starts with, “if only”
All of these thoughts have one thing in common: They deny the sovereignty of God. The truth is, God is God, and He does what He pleases with what is His. Romans 8:28-29 reminds us that everything that happened in our past—happy or sad—was ordained by our sovereign, loving God for our good and His glory. We can trust that this is the truth.
So, the next time bad memories bring up anger, sadness, and regret, take those thoughts captive by remembering the Word of God. He has richly supplied us with everything we need to win this race. Our victory has already been won! Our part is to keep facing forward, even if we are only crawling, and press on toward the goal.