We have all heard the warning about “living in the past.” It’s not a wise thing to do.
I know that I often catch myself dwelling on this or that decision from years or even decades ago. When this happens I find myself rehashing my reasons and rationales like some broken record.
There is no doubt that 20/20 hindsight can be a cruel partner, poking us every now and then. Armed with the clarity of knowing results and consequences we torture ourselves wondering how we could not see the results of our actions or decisions way back when.
Not to be outdone, of course, are the ever-popular apprehensions about the future. After all, is not the future merely a blind curve teeming with unexpected traps and problems? Yet we rush toward manholes and cliffs we will not see until it is too late.
Between the haunting past and the foreboding future, we have a ready-made plate of worries and ruminations at our disposal. What we need to realize sooner better than later, however, is that God is neither in our rear-view mirror nor is He at the end of the blind curve that is our future.
Dwelling In The Past
There is a clear distinction between dwelling in the past as opposed to learning from the past. The word “dwelling” means a home or where one resides or lives. It is not constructive, and it’s even destructive, to constantly live in the past.
Whether we constantly reflect on positive or negative memories and experiences, the mere fact that we keep re-visiting that past takes away from our focus on the present. Spending all day thinking about my great high school experiences does little to improve my present situation. Likewise, obsessing over the mistakes or poor choices I made in the past only tends to beat me down.
Of course there is nothing wrong with mentally glancing back at our past highlights or low points. The problem occurs when we dwell or entrench ourselves in a time which we cannot change now. We gain nothing, and even retreat, when we define ourselves by our past, bad or good. When we define ourselves by our past, we perpetuate that past far beyond its beneficial role in our lives. The past should inform, and not define, our present and future.
Learning From The Past
God wants us to learn and grow toward our destiny with Him. But we cannot learn and grow if we wrap ourselves in our past. Obsessing over past glory only invites complacency, presumption, stagnation, or even arrogance. Obsessing over past stumbles or hurts only brings depression, resentment, regret, and even bitterness. No matter how you look at it, the past that is obsessed over is a moral minefield most mortal humans cannot traverse safely.
We should use the past as a teacher for enhancing our future. The only thing worse than a mistake is a mistake one does not learn from and may even repeat. Reflecting on past errors and taking steps to avoid those errors again is never a bad thing. When we reflect on our past mistakes, we bring the wisdom of the past to our present. When we dwell on the past, however, we drag our present to that past.
The Past is an Unhealthy Neighborhood
The past can be dangerous turf teeming with regret, remorse, resentment, revenge, bitterness, and ingratitude. Armed with 20/20 hindsight, we see results and consequences that we could never have anticipated back then. Obsessing over what we should or could have done or what we did not do goes way past the productive stage.
Forgiving others or ourselves can be very difficult, if not impossible, for those wrapped in the past. It is also practically impossible to appreciate the present if we are preoccupied with the past. The devil wants us to sink in the past’s cesspool of vice and hopelessness.
Ultimately, those mired in the past cannot let go because they cannot trust in God’s mercy.
Leave The Future to God
Dwelling in the past is an invitation to be ungrateful for what we have and mistrustful of God’s Divine Mercy. At the same time, worrying about the future can be an invitation to be mistrustful of God’s Divine Providence.
While there is nothing wrong with glancing at our future and reflecting on our plans and hopes, this is very different from being anxious or even petrified of what that future will bring. If the past is teeming with the potential for regret, then the future is overflowing with the potential for fear.
God wants us to learn from our past and plan for our future with joyful trust, acceptance, and gratitude for His many blessings. We are closest to God when we humbly ask for forgiveness for our stumbles and humbly embrace God’s Will for our lives. Learn from your past and leave it to God. Embrace your future and entrust it to God as well.
“Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Mt 6:34)
Find God in The Present
Fulton Sheen once observed that much of our unhappiness stems from excessive concentration in the past and extreme preoccupation with the future. We cannot change the past. We only have the potential to either simmer in it or learn from it. Similarly, we cannot predict the future. We only have the opportunity to become paralyzed before it or to embrace it by trusting in God.
God is found in our present moments. He is present among the countless souls we daily encounter in great need for kindness, compassion, and love. He is present in the wonders of nature that surround us each today. Each moment is an opportunity to get closer to God in small and immense ways. We can only relieve pain, loneliness, hopelessness, and sorrow in the present. We can only reach out to wandering hands in search of a caring touch in the present.
Prayers about the past tend to apologize or hope. Prayers about the future tend to petition. Prayers in the present, however, are the most opportune way to praise and thank the Creator.
Embrace each moment as an opportunity for salvation. Sanctify each moment with humble contentment and acceptance. Do not waste or tarnish each moment with apathy, or ingratitude. Let God always be your answer to now.