Happy New Year, warriors! As we look forward to 2015, it’s a good time to say “Out with the old, and in with the new.” Some folks in different parts of the world take this suggestion literally. For example, in Italy it is customary to throw pots, pans and even furniture out of windows at midnight on New Year’s! Performing this act “symbolizes casting away the old in favor of the new, letting go of past sorrows for a more hopeful time” (Tharoor, “Throw Your Furniture out the Window, and Other Ways to Ring In 2015”).
If only it were that easy to let go of the past with all of its hurts, pain, regret and disappointments. A recent visit with my family this holiday season provided much opportunity to revisit many pleasant memories. Some family discussion also brought up painful recollections as well as wounds that are still festering. The reunion experience reminded me of all the work it takes to fully let go, be healed and move on.
The first step in letting go of a painful past is arguably the most difficult – coming out of denial and facing our truth about the pain we’ve experienced. Pushing down our feelings, ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist may seem easier and may even work for a time, but inevitably if we want to be effective warriors in full allegiance to the Lord we must treat our wounds in order to receive healing.
I praise God that He knows when I’m emotionally and spiritually ready to work through and move beyond something painful from my past. I do my best to run away from dealing with the “hard stuff” by staying really busy and/or not allowing myself to be still too long with my feelings. But at some point my depression becomes so debilitating and my body manifests intense physical symptoms of stress that I no longer have the option of avoidance.
When I suffered my last severe episode of depression last year, I was forced to seek out every healthy means of relief including therapy, medication, the laying on of hands by our church elders, deeper Bible study, and intensive shoring up of my spiritual armor with fervent prayer for clarity, wisdom and forgiveness. I discovered that it was yet again a time that Jesus wanted to expose and heal a deep wound in my soul. It wasn’t until I allowed him access to every nook and cranny of my heart that true healing took place, and I was able at long last to let go and be free.
Only Jesus has the power to free us from ourselves and our sinful nature, and only he can free us from bondage to all that enslaves us whether or not we recognize our enslavement. Jesus explained to the Jews who believed in him that if they held to his teaching they would “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (New International Version, John 8:32).
In the rooms of recovery, alcoholics and addicts are familiar with the expression, “You’re only as sick as your secrets”. In other words, it’s only what we keep hidden inside – whether it is sin, resentment, things that we’ve done to hurt others or things that have been done to hurt us – that will eventually catch up with us and lead us down the path of darkness. In Proverbs 28:13, we learn that “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
When we offer the painful parts of our past to Jesus and discuss them with another trusted person, we open ourselves up to healing and restoration. And Scripture reminds us again and again that Jesus has the power to expel our demons and mend our broken hearts:
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.(Matthew 4:23-24)
Satan would love for us to continue stumbling through life in the dark, never revealing our evil thoughts and secrets. We may unintentionally go along with Satan because by our very nature we recoil from the light. Perhaps Christ’s light blinds us with its purity and holiness, especially when it contrasts with the darkness in our hearts. As John 3:19-21 explains:
This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Shining Christ’s light on our wounds may be painful at first, but exposing our darkness to the light ensures that darkness won’t overtake us. As the Apostle John wrote of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
Once we have faced our pain, our sin and our regrets and have allowed the Lord to forgive and heal us, we can move forward with confidence. The goal is not to linger in painful memories but to press on in pursuit of spiritual maturity in Christ. An effective warrior must be single-minded, unencumbered and focused, possessing only one ultimate objective – knowing Christ and living the Christian life. The Apostle Paul describes his dedication to following Christ:
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12b-14)
Reflecting on the past and seeking healing is beneficial for a season. However, it’s not healthy or productive to constantly look back and relive painful memories. The enemy just loves to sidetrack us and push us off the path of righteousness by reminding us of experiences that hurt us or make us feel ashamed about something we did that God forgave us for long ago! When those negative thoughts creep up, we can heed Solomon’s advice:
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-26)
Tharoor, Ishaan. “Throw Your Furniture Out the Window, and Other Ways to Ring In 2015”. The Washington Post, 31 December 2014. Web. 02 January 2015.
Zondervan NIV Life Application Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.