It is a mistake to believe that your past no longer affects you. If that were true, we would not remember all the lessons we've learned from our experiences: from the simplest of things like learning to ride a bike to the more difficult realities that have caused us pain. Our understanding of past experiences teaches us how to respond to similar situations. Almost always we react instinctively to the things we’ve already experienced when we encounter them again.
Many of us have prayed for the difficult memories of our past to be erased. In fact, I’m convinced that every individual ever born has wanted this at some point in their lives. Yet those of us who are in Christ should not desire to forget our past. It was in darkness that we saw his light. In the depths of human depravity, Christ sustained us. Why then would we want to forget what we’ve been sovereignly rescued from? Should we forget what the Lord has done?
We mustn't confuse our sins being washed away with our past being washed away. The “sea of forgetfulness” contains our sins, not our memories. I don’t know about you, but I still cry from the abuse and hurt I endured in my life. A face, a smell, a sight, a touch can bring back the pain.
But when you are in this place, do not hide in shame, for the Lord inclines his ear to you and does not hide his face.
The healthy way to respond to a past experience that has caused pain is to trust what God is teaching you, to forgive, to be aware of what can happen. And then to use wisdom and discernment going forward. The unhealthy way of responding is to doubt God’s love for you, to become fearful or unforgiving, to never trust anyone. All of us have reacted to our past experiences in both ways. God has proved himself true, and he always will.
Joseph spent years as a slave and was falsely imprisoned. In the end, it was all part of God’s sovereign plan. I wonder if haunting memories of being thrown in a well by his brothers, being sold as a slave, and the smell of his former prison cell ever truly escaped him. Probably not. When he saw his brothers again, imagine what went through his mind. Did he relive his painful past? We know he didn’t forget because he sought a place to weep after seeing them again.
Nonetheless, he forgave them: “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Gen. 45:4-5).
Joseph saw his family reconciled and restored. He knew God had not abandoned nor forgotten him. God proved himself true. He always does.
So to you who are beloved of Christ: it’s OK if you find yourself reliving the pain of the past. For it only magnifies Christ, who was by your side. He was there with every tear, providing you with comfort and strength. “All things must work together for good for those who love God,” says the apostle Paul. We seldom see that in the moment of our pain. It may take years, but God's promise never fails.