Drowning in the Past
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14
I recently met a man who, only a few days sober, was drowning in guilt and shame. In his addiction, he’d burned every relationship that was important to him. Now, as his mind began to clear, he was realizing what he’d done, and the weight of his shame threatened to crush him. The look in his eyes was one of total despair – knowing that he’d lost everything good in his life and that he alone was to blame.
When I arrived in treatment, I was in the same place. I’d lost my job and possibly my family. Everyone suddenly knew me as an addict and I was overwhelmed with guilt and shame. There were others in treatment who told me I simply needed to forgive myself and let it go. They had. They didn’t seem to have a care in the world, despite all the destruction they’d caused. I doubted that their victims had such short memories. That was the problem. I felt horrible because I’d hurt others and I couldn’t just flip a switch, ignoring that painful reality.
The only way I got through the guilt was to use it as motivation to seek transformation. It was only in leaving the old to become something new that I could change my future and begin to restore the relationships that I’d damaged. I forgot the past only by truly leaving it behind.
This was Paul’s lesson in today’s passage. He said that to grow, we must forget and abandon the past. For Paul, this wasn’t simply a mental exercise. He radically changed everything about himself to become something completely different. It was only in daily transformation that he could forget the past.
For some people, it isn’t what they’ve done to others, but rather that which has been done to them that causes shame. For these individuals, the same principle applies. They must do whatever it takes to abandon the old and pursue the new. For some, this will be a lifelong process that must be done again and again. This may mean counseling. This will require honesty and vulnerability. This will require the love and support of close friends.
If we’re drowning in the past, whether it’s something we’ve done or something that’s been done to us, we must daily do what it takes to abandon it. This isn’t simply a mental exercise. This is action. This is doing whatever it takes to leave the past behind, daily pursuing the new life in Christ.