Often I have heard the following stories from people. They can be actually related stories or sometimes just questions. I am summarizing them to offer to you the best examples for this reflection paper. All of them involve our human tendency to dwell on the past. In my first offered example, people will tell me of hurts they have experienced and continually dwell on. These hurts can conceivably go all the way back to their childhood. In the second offered example, people will tell me of their past sins. They perhaps wonder if their past sins are forgiven and they will want to confess them again. In all of these examples they common thread involves the inability to let go.
The Scriptures speak to this “inability.” On a recent Sunday, we have heard of Jesus walking along and inviting people to follow Him. In all the examples presented in this Sunday scriptural passage, all of the people spoken to told Him to wait a bit. “Let me go and bury someone first,’ one person said. Another said that they would like to say goodbye to their relatives first. Jesus offers a reply to each of these people that suggests a deep wisdom. Essentially, He encourages them to not look over shoulder. Don’t look back, He says! Let the past go because your business now is to follow me. Letting go demands an action. I don’t let go by wondering about it.
Following Christ successfully – and forever as the Scripture also indicates – involves this deliberately chosen action of letting go. With this Scripture offered for our reflection, we are invited now to recognize how unhealthy it can be to dwell on past hurts and pains. Current therapeutic practices tend to reflect this same wisdom. Dr. William Glasser, MD, the founder of Reality Therapy/Choice Theory, always encouraged his students to only look back on the past to the extent that it helped understand the present better. In Reality Therapy, if one feels bad it is important to either “do” something different or “think” something different. One cannot alter a bad feeling, in other words, by feeling something different. I can’t change my feelings through my feelings, which is another way of phrasing it. Rather, I have to, again, DO or THINK something different. These are actions words, just like letting go.
How can I thereupon deal with past hurts? I can choose to dwell on them, (and it’s always a choice!) which is basically doing nothing except hurting myself repeatedly. After all, can we ever remember the past accurately?
Isn’t it more the case that we interpret the past, often enough exaggerating through our imagination whatever we believe to be the experience that hurts us? So now, in reality if I am not letting go, I am instead taking this experience, now exaggerated and blown out of proportion in my imagination by repeatedly dwelling on it, and just hurting myself with it. This is one possible choice. Another choice is to forgive whoever hurt me and let it go through prayer, spiritual reflection, and meditation. And then once let go, follow Christ in my everyday life.
As for sins that I believe were not forgotten? See a priest right away and get the assurance that they are forgiven, and then let these go too. With imagined or uncertain sins, it’s good to talk this out with either a priest, or better yet a spiritual director/priest with whom I have developed a relationship with, and let these concerns go as well. These are active steps toward letting go of the past, which are always better than just dwelling on them. The main ideal is to take the steps necessary to get rid of all the obstacles that prevent me from just following the Lord. And hopefully we can all see, that following the Lord without these obstacles, represents a way of healthy living. Less focusing on ourselves means more focusing on others and helping them, the ultimate encouragement of the Lord.
Peace, Fr. Walter