“Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.” – Author, Unknown
“What a wonderful thought in knowing the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet” – Author, Unknown
Are you still living in the past? Wondering what could have been or should have been? Do you often find yourself reflecting on the things that you wish you had done or perhaps, the things you wish you had not? How about a bad relationship, or maybe a good one that ended unlike what you had planned in your mind’s eye? As we look back on our lives and the decisions that we have made, we can always find something that we wished could have gone differently if we had our way. I’ve learned over the years, what is great about life is we are often blessed with second chances (many of them if we’re honest), and what is even better is when we have actually learned something from the (many) first choices that we have made.
For us to authentically move forward in our lives, we have to come to the place where the past is no longer a part of our present, specifically meaning that it loses its power to influence our future negatively any longer. The problem for most of us, me included is we often have the temptation to look back or reflect on the “what ifs” in our lives.
Now when this reflection becomes solely about extrapolating lessons for our understanding that’s all good and helpful, but far too often it becomes more about a study that fosters guilt, doubt and other non-productive memories.
That said, it is always wise to share this information with a qualified and unbiased individual or group when you so choose to reflect.
I would find myself in situations where I had made poor decisions about my career, finances and relationships. There I stood, alone usually thinking how I royally screwed up this time. The phrase, “what were you thinking” was one that usually came to mind. In these circumstances, I had the aftermath of a bad choice staring me in the face and/or other people reminding me of my fallacious discretion. After years of abusing myself based on the energy and ideas of others, I decided to stop and recognize who I was. And although some of those choices were truly poor and hurtful towards other people, it was imperative that I learn the art of moving on with my life.
Think about it, when we get cut, we bleed. We will either need stitches or a band-aid to stop the flow of blood, but usually after some time passes the blood flow ceases and we recover. Over time after our body heals, depending on the severity of the wound, we may not even recognize that we suffered any injury at all. We will continue to live our lives and utilize that body part as normal. Now if the injury is severe it will obviously take longer to feel normal, and may even require outside support (therapy) to regain the strength we once had. Worse yet, the injury could possibly cause us to live and altered lifestyle for the remainder of our time on earth.
Whatever the situation, we must learn to live again, and a part of living again is moving pass the past.
Easier said than done right? Believe me, I am not one without empathy to this point, yet the fact remains that we must still move on. So what is this art to moving on, and how do we do pull it off? I’ve jotted down a few things that have helped me to move forward in my life. Hopefully you will find them helpful as well.
1. Apologize to those that were impacted by your decision – I have learned that a sincere apology will go along way when done in the right spirit. Be specific, clear and honest with your words. This moment is not about whether they accept your apology or not. You cannot control the outcome, only your words, which should be motivated by love and a desire to heal. There are times when I was able to apologize while sitting face to face with the person that I offended and the exchange was decent. There are other times when an email or letter was the closest I was able to get. In some cases, I never received a response and in other times a response come months or years letter. Either way, I have learned that an offenders words are very powerful for healing the one(s) you hurt when done in the right spirit.
2. Make peace with the decision – Here is where that old cliché, “you can’t cry over spilled milk” comes into reality. After the apologies have been made or the attempts to make them are satisfied, own what you have done, wrong or right. Wear it like a badge and learn lessons from it, in other words accept the fact that it happened and that won’t ever change. At this point you are no longer making excuses. You make peace by forgiving yourself and tuning out the haters that may still attempt to remind you of your past actions. Recognize it is now a part of your history and does not have to define your future.
3. Forgive yourself – If you still have not done this in step two, it is imperative that you do. I know a man who cheated on his wife and the results of his affair produced a child. In many cases this marriage was doomed, but his wife had truly forgiven him, but as we sat having lunch one day and he was pouring his heart out to me, I asked him a question. I asked him if he had forgiven himself yet. He had not and was not ready to yet. He believed that he needed to suffer longer. I assured him that he didn’t, but this was his journey to take. Eventually, perhaps years later, he did finally forgive himself and he and his wife have a sustaining marriage that exemplifies God’s grace and mercy in so many ways. A story most of us love to read about, but would not necessarily choose to endure the pain and agony it took to overcome such a painful decision.
4. Acknowledge what lessons you have learned to yourself – This is how companies, products and processes improve, so why can’t we use this step for our personal lives? Take a step back and literally write down each lessons you have learned in this situation. Lessons unlearned will certainly be repeated, and you will only have yourself to blame. I have a journal that I began after my second divorce. I asked myself questions that I did not necessarily have the answers for at that time, but it forced me to dig deeper. It forced me “to do the work” as they say. The work of discovering why I was making poor relational decisions. What was the catalyst? What were my triggers? What are my love languages? What was I truly seeking in a spouse? How did being molested impact my ability to deeply engage or become emotionally intimate with another woman? How is it that I can shut-off or dismiss someone so easily? These questions and more are things that I dealt with at their core for the first time in my life. With the help of a very good counselor and a few trusted friends, I was able to make some very important steps towards a better future. This was also a painful process, for it exposed issues that lied dormant within me and quite honestly, it would have been easier to let them remain in that place, but the pain I suffered and inflicted on others was my motivation to confront them once in for all. It was certainly one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself. Today I continue to learn lessons and take inventory of my choices and why I make them. It helps me to remain focused on what is most important, which for me is to always be growing and learning.
5. Understand how moving forward looks in your life – As I mentioned in one of the earlier steps, “lessons unlearned will certainly be repeated”. Even with a different person/circumstance you will repeat the act. Life just works that way, so the sooner you can begin to understand how the lessons-learned should truly play out in regards to your immediate future, the less likely you are to continue down a path of potential destruction. Destruction for you as well as others you know and have yet to meet. When we choose to ignore this step we find ourselves in places that look familiar and we ask ourselves questions like, “how did I get here, again?” This could be relational or financial, but will indeed be a repeated act, perpetuated by your inability to face the truth. The truth that you are the common denominator to the problem. It’s a hard thing to acknowledge that after two marriages, that just maybe I was a larger part of the problem and not my ex wives. How is that for cold-hearted truth? How about when you find yourself in the same financial predicaments? It’s not that you don’t have money, it’s what you choose to do with it. There you are again in a reoccurring financial bind. It all to familiar, but until we understand and own our part in it we will continue to make the same choices and blame others for the results. The perfect combination for a vicious cycle of turmoil. My molester helped to establish certain patterns in my life. My parents did the same, albeit more good than not in comparison. My responsibility is to not remain in the darkness, regardless of the situation.
It is and always will be my decision to take the culmination of who I am, intertwined with my life experiences and choose what is best for me. Sometimes I get this right and often times very wrong, but as I pray and trust God to give me wisdom, I get better at learning and understanding why I do what I do, and why I think how I think. The key is to get there more consistently and realize when a paradigm shift is essential for the next chapter in my life.
There is no implication here that anyone is perfect. Nor should you feel the least bit condemned for not understanding any of this. We have all fallen short and will continue to do so, but perhaps today is your day to understand your journey a little bit better and start that new chapter in your life.
When we can effectively begin to move forward (not looking back) in the most important areas of our lives, there is when we have won a tremendous battle. A battle that will fuel our future with an impenetrable ability to look pass what can and has held us back, from a future that focuses on what lies ahead, full of a defined and understood vision that propels past every hindrance, every obstacle and every naysayer that would tempt us to look back.