Jerusalem remembers in the days of her affliction and wandering all the precious things that were hers from days of old. Lamentations 1:7
What do we do with painful memories of destructive behavior? When we’ve hurt our loved ones, we now have agonizing memories, and even if we’ve repented, it still hurts. Do we simply dismiss a thing because it’s in the past? Do we wallow in it, being consumed by the shame?
I’ve both dismissed and wallowed and I’ve found that both are extreme errors in how I handle the past. Today’s passage (Lamentations) illustrates that there is a proper way to lament the painful decisions of yesterday, and that such grieving has a purpose. In the passage, the author looks back at the Jerusalem that once was and mourns the failures that led to its downfall.
In chemical dependency treatment, I became consumed by the magnitude of my disastrous behavior. Oddly enough, there were those in the same situation who didn’t have a care in the world. Because they were forgiven by God, they dismissed their past toxic behavior. They were set free and had a new life.
I know now that many of those who adopted such an attitude have since relapsed. Simply dismissing my life problems does not make them go away, it just makes me more susceptible to returning to my addictions. Pretending I’m free from all struggle and consequence is probably the fastest route to blinding pride and a return to some destructive behavior.
I was no better off in my wallowing though. Consumed by my shame, I struggled to move forward. Stuck in the pain of the past, I wrestled with believing in a better future. Wallowing, like dismissing, also leads many addicts to relapse.
There is a grief that lies somewhere between dismissal and wallowing though. Godly grief produces a repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). It does no good to pretend we didn’t hurt others. It does no good either though, to be paralyzed by guilt. To do it right, we must accept both our past failures and God’s forgiveness. Then we must use the pain to motivate us to abandon ourselves in pursuit of God. Lamenting past failures can change our future for the better.