Release the Past & Move Forward

On March 23, 2015, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Release the Past & Move Forward Rev Dr Durrell Watkins March 22nd, 2015 The prophet Jeremiah, in today’s biblical reading, offers hope to hurting people. People know stories about how their ancestors were close to God, heard from God, were guided by God, and yet, that seems so long ago. They are now feeling broken, […]

Release the Past & Move Forward
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
March 22nd, 2015

The prophet Jeremiah, in today’s biblical reading, offers hope to hurting people. People know stories about how their ancestors were close to God, heard from God, were guided by God, and yet, that seems so long ago. They are now feeling broken, abandoned, afraid, disappointed, hurt. The prophet says to them that the covenant with their ancestors wasn’t the end of the story, that God is in relationship with them, too; God is their God, they are God’s people, and the future can be brighter than the current moment of pain.

If we romanticize the past and compare the present reality to the built up and glorified past, that is almost never remembered correctly, then we will be left bitter and disappointed. And, similarly, if we get stuck in a painful past, we will keep reliving the pain and won’t be able to have better experiences in the present. Whether we glorify the past or blame it for all our current pain, either way, if we are stuck in the past we can’t navigate the present effectively. That’s what we remind ourselves that the past is past and the future has infinite possibilities!

It’s pretty common for people who grew up in abusive or neglectful homes or who spent their formative years being marginalized by social institutions to always replay the past, comparing the present to it, or blaming the difficulties of the present on it. But if we think the best days are behind us, or that the pain of the past defines or limits us today, then we will continually feel victimized, angry, embarrassed, or sad. The more we wallow in those feelings, the more intense they become.

It was a healing and liberating moment the day I realized that I will never have a better past. There were perfect families on television when I was young…the Brady Bunch, The Courtship of Eddy’s Father, Family Affair, The Partridge Family, later, the Huxtables…these families were successful, polite, happy, charming, loving, safe, supportive…these families, however, were not MY family.

In addition to less than ideal family dynamics, I was an obviously gay kid in small rural environment in the fundamentalist Bible Belt. To say my childhood wasn’t always safe or happy would be to really under sell it!

But I can’t go back; only forward. Trying to fix the unfixable past only keeps us stuck in the pain of the past; and if we stay stuck in past pain, we keep hurting ourselves, and in that state we will either sink deeper in despair, or turn our pain outward to hurt others. Either way, we delay our healing.

Today’s readings are not a replacement for therapy, but are meant to encourage anyone who is struggling. At times we may feel broken, but we can move forward. We can feel whole again, or even for the first time. The future has infinite possibilities. And that is something that encourages me daily; and I hope it can encourage you.

You would be amazed how routinely pastors are viciously attacked. Not physically assaulted necessarily, but just treated as if we don’t have human emotions. Recently in a worship service when I mentioned how much my grandmother loved me, someone made an audible and vicious comment under their breath (about that of all things). But as hateful attacks go, that one didn’t make the top 100.

I could tell you about threats, insults, slander, whisper campaigns, and organized attempts to publicly humiliate me or other church leaders. I could tell you stories of my 16 year relationship being disrespected, the faith that has sustained me and saved my life being questioned, and innumerable unsigned written lectures telling me about what I don’t know from shinola. I once heard a minister say that the Christian army is the only army that shoots its old soldiers. I have plenty of wounds from so-called friendly fire!

So why do I do what I do? Because I love it. It is my privilege and my joy. And not only do I love what I do – I love the community for whom I do it. That’s what I have to focus on; not on the moments of meanness, but on the many more moments of tender connection, of breakthroughs, of shared insights, of community building, of people coming together and being their best and learning to love themselves and celebrate who they are. Those magical, miraculous moments outnumber the others by far…how dare I ever give energy or focus to the negative stuff when there are so many positive, beautiful, loving moments to celebrate and share?!

If I stayed focus on the bad experiences I couldn’t get out of bed. If I obsess on the bad behavior of others I might get stuck in a story of blame and shame and fear and regret and that can leave me in mental quicksand. I’ve been there, but I refuse to stay there. We are always free to embrace peace and happiness in the NOW.

And in the now, I have to notice and be grateful for all the people who are growing, who are seeking to be their best, who are sharing love and kindness, who routinely show their appreciation for the ministry we are building together, who support the ministry with time, talent, and treasure, who say encouraging things, who pray for me and for one another. When I think of what is wonderful and what is still possible, I just don’t have time to waste crying over BS (bad stuff). We have lives to heal and lives to save; we just can’t be distracted by things that are already past.

Abusive parents, mean teachers, miserable neighbors, unfaithful partners, ungrateful kids, chronically bitter fault-finders…maybe they hurt us and hurt us badly. They were acting out of their own pain and insecurity. Somebody hurt them, and they haven’t healed yet. We can’t fix them, but we can decide that we will not allow the psychic vomit they spewed at us define or deter us.

I’m not trying to try to win the admiration of the haters; I’m trying to tell as many people as will dare to hear that they are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, and to share that message effectively I have to believe it about myself, and so do you. And as we embrace and model that truth, those who want to be healed will see that it is possible, and they will follow our example and they will enter into their own season of miracles.

So, how do we release the past? How do we forgive ourselves or others, how do we move past the regret, release the shame, heal the fears we’ve been dragging around? How do we begin to mend the feeling of brokenness and embrace the truth of our innate wholeness?

Some of our insecurities, our anxieties, our fears, our regrets, our bitterness, are just scars from past experiences. We keep the feelings alive and they attract more experiences similar to that negative energy. But we can find each of those psychic wounds, heal them, and move on. Rev Elder Freda Smith says, Find it. Face it. Fix it. Finish it. And Forget it.
If we don’t release it, then it isn’t fixed or finished, and we are still stuck in a past that no longer exists.

We may need help finding, facing, and fixing the issues. But there is help to be had. We can seek the help of support groups, therapists, or physicians. And we can also do the following four things:

1. Pray.
Praying really does generate strength and hope and comfort that can help sustain us during troubling times.

2. It sounds cliché, but there is truth in it ~ Look for the silver lining.
{“Look for the silver lining whenever clouds appear in the blue. Remember somewhere the sun is shining so the right thing to do is make it shine for you. A heart filled with joy and gladness will always banish sorrow and strife; so look for the silver lining and always try to find the sunny side of life.”}

Most things, even very painful things, offer a lesson, an opportunity, a “hidden” blessing, or at very least proof of how strong we are to survive it.

3. Another possibly trite expression but nevertheless good advice is ~ Count your blessings.
{“Count your blessings name them one by one. Count your blessings see what God has done. Count your blessings; name them one by one. County your many blessings see what God has done.”}

If focusing on what was unfair keeps us down, focusing on what is good or at least possible is likely to lift us up. We can’t be grateful and bitter at the same time. So, while we are finding things to be thankful for we aren’t obsessing about what makes us sad.

4. Be generous.
Giving feels good. When we bless others, we feel blessed.

Pray. Look for the silver lining. Count your blessings. Be generous.
This really is an effective formula for helping us lessen the burdens of the past we have carried around for too long.

Release the past. Whether it was this morning’s argument or a devastating event from a decade ago…we will never have a better past, but the future is wide open and we can choose thoughts of hope and love and peace right now that will lead us into an amazing future.

Maybe our past was difficult. Maybe our parents were unhappy. Maybe our grandparents had a lot of fear or regret. But they aren’t us and their lives aren’t necessarily a blue print for our lives. Even our own past difficulties need not be replayed in our future. The past is past. Leave it there.

The past may have been painful, but it is the past. Let it go and start moving forward. The past is past and the future has infinite possibilities. And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015

The past is past.
It has no power over me.
I release yesterday’s pain.
I embrace healing today.
And I know that the future has infinite possibilities!
And so it is.

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