We often reflect on the past with a myriad of regret. We wish that we hadn’t done many things. We wish many things hadn’t been done to us. Often this regret morphs into a haunting fear that our disdained past will follows us and threaten the bright future that we look forward to. How can we combat the burdensome fear of history repeating itself and look towards the future with a healthy perspective?
You are a product of your past
Acceptance. Accept what is. Our history is not supposed to read as a glorified highlight reel. If your past is anything like mine, then tragedy has been interwoven with joy, mistakes with triumph. More importantly, your history has shaped who you are, you are not completely separate from your past. In fact, your past experiences have a hand at play when it comes to the decisions you make today.
However, it is the very reason why many people are fearful of history repeating itself. Your mind’s rhetoric might ring in this fashion; ‘Why do I keep repeating the same mistakes?’ ‘Why do I end up dating the same kind of person?’ ‘Why do I keep losing friends?’ What if I end up just like my mum/dad?’ We understand the relationship that the past and the future have. However, what we sometimes forget is that simply hoping and deciding that our history and the optimism of our future would simply unlink arms and go their separate ways, isn’t likely. Some of us are trying to avoid becoming like our parents without realising that we are our parents’ children. Years spent watching them live has meant that we have their habits ingrained in our minds, in the same way that the alphabet and times tables they taught us, were repeatedly rehearsed to us. We may forget that bad habits die hard, and the comfort of routine and familiarity might mean the dysfunctional historical trends of our past are harder to shake off than we think.
Along with acceptance, should come the realisation that simply unlearning won’t do and that we need something greater than ourselves to change.
You are a product of grace
Our efforts, then, to unlearn what we have spent years reciting can seem wasteful or unproductive. While trying to simply shake off incorrect practice might prove unsuccessful, we shouldn’t be discouraged or fearful when we see signs of the past poke through in our present relationships. Instead, we should rejoice. Why? Because Christ offers himself as the antidote.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1-2
The gospel boasts transformative work, by God’s mercy, through Christ’s death and resurrection, means as believers we experience a transformation that according to John Piper, ‘is a profound, blood-bought, Spirit-wrought change from the inside out.’ That is to say, the Holy Spirit, through whom Christ was raised from the dead, works now through us changing our mindset’s affection. The heart is invisibly transformed – our dysfunctional nature changed forever. That which is the evidence of Holy Spirit’s work in us- its fruit so to speak, might be yet to show an appearance or become visible but one thing is clear, we are no longer slaves to sin.
4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sinRomans 6:4-6
Sanctification is progressive
Ultimately these changes do not happen overnight, therefore do not be disheartened if the change is slow. Gradually our default to destructive, dead-worthy habits that we struggle with within our relationships that cause friction, conflict and misery, are replaced with deep contemplation of our actions in light of God’s Word. A contemplation which ruminates on the desire for change in our actions and the outcome of our broken relationships. Contemplation that forces us onto our knees and mumble desperate petitions in prayer for God to change our responses and to give us wisdom and grace to make better decisions instead of defaulting to habits that we have learnt over the years. Prayers which lead to small triumphs when God answers our prayers and guides us to take a step back and make better decisions during tumultuous seasons in our relationships.
Sometimes there are wins, sometimes there are regressions, but as we pray, weep, observe the Word, walk, live, think, fall and rise again, the Holy Spirit is working through all of these moments to help us grow. All the while, it is God, working and willing in us to do his good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)