Isaiah 43:18 (NIV): “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”
I’m not sure there is better—or more difficult—advice.
If your mind is like mine, it chooses to cleave to the past like contact paper to fingers, even though by dwelling on the injustices done to us, we will miss out on what God has for us now. That’s because our brains cannot dwell on two things at once. We are incapable of reliving our past and our present at the same time. Get that? Incapable.
My mind has a tendency to love history, and no, not the “Name the presidents in order” kind of history. The history to which I’m referring is that which happens when Dave and I disagree. It can be something as simple as him telling me that it’s frustrating to wake up to dirty dishes in the sink. I now have a choice: I can make a mental note to never go to bed without cleaning up, or I can thank him for sharing with me what he is feeling and promise to never, ever, ever do that again.
I can tell Dave that (a.) dirty dishes have no eternal repercussions, (b.) since there’s nothing wrong with his hands, he is perfectly capable of taking care of the dishes if they bother him so much, or (c.) he has a critical spirit that needs addressing because this is not the first time he has found fault with something I have done. And then I will replay whatever has happened over the past, say 43 years, that I have found irritating. (When it comes to remembering these details, I have a photographic memory.)
You can guess how well this all works out. I just have the hardest time remembering that my past is not my destiny.
Unless, that is, I choose to live there.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians gives a better suggestion. Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (3:13b-14 NLT)
The challenge of the past is not to see the mistakes of others. It is to train me to remember my mistakes so I can work towards becoming the kind of person God wants me to be. Where I was once selfish, I now can be tender-hearted and other-oriented. Where I was once angry, I now can be loving and kind. Where I was once lackluster about my sin, I now can be pained by how I have pained God.
The truth is this: my heart will not change if I cling to my past. I am to deal with it honestly and then displace it. An old Peanuts cartoon has Lucy standing in the outfield of Charlie Brown’s baseball diamond. As a fly ball sails toward her, she remembers all the other times she’s dropped the ball. And she drops this one, too. Lucy calls out to Charlie Brown, who’s standing on the pitcher’s mound: “I almost had it, but then my past got in my eyes!”
And I assure you, Readers, if we want to “receive the heavenly prize,” that is a ball we cannot afford to drop.