By Karen O’Connor
What a relief it is to read this beautiful Scripture from Isaiah and experience the blessings it holds for each of God’s children. When I think of some of my behavior in the past, I shudder, wondering if I’m worthy of such grace. But then I remember that it’s not about being worthy, because there is nothing I can do to merit God’s favor. He takes care of me—and all of us—because he loves me, not because of anything I do.
Maybe you also shudder when you think of your past and you want to turn away. If only you could undo what you did. But how comforting it is to know that when you go to God with your sins, he does not hold your deeds against you. He not only forgives, he forgets: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
Holding on to Shame
Some of us, however, hold ourselves hostage to our sins long after God has forgiven us. I did for many months. I couldn’t get past my past until I realized through prayer, sermons, Scripture, and the help of a trusted counselor that when I hold on to what God has already let go of, I’m throwing away his grace as if it were the daily trash.
That image woke me up to what I was doing––wasting my time wallowing in self-pity and regret instead of thanking God for his love and forgiveness and then getting on with my life. On the first day of the year following my decision to follow Christ, I made a resolution—not to lose weight or study the Bible daily or volunteer at the church or exercise more—but to let go of my past, the part of my life I was ashamed of. I stopped thinking about the fact that I was divorced or that for a time I lived apart from two of my children or that I lacked the fortitude to drop a friend who was disrupting my life, and so on. I made a list and then tore it up and tossed it.
That doesn’t mean I never had a regret or a wayward thought again, but when they teased my mind I stopped them in their tracks, turned to God’s Word, and focused on it until I felt calm and peaceful. Here is a verse that I have returned to often: “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
God does not pick and choose times to be faithful. He doesn’t measure his love by how good or bad I behave or what I’ve done in my past. He keeps his covenant of love to all who love him and live by his commandments. How could I not love such a mighty God? I feel like weeping just reading those words in Deuteronomy.
God is the perfect parent, friend, brother, and Savior. He takes on the responsibility and the consequences of my actions for me. I am free because of what he did for me through his Son Jesus on the cross. How can I—or any of us—hold on to what God has already taken and turned into good?
• Through the agony of my divorce I came to Christ, the only one who understood my pain and sorrow.
• Living apart from my children for a time allowed me to grow up and become the mother I knew I could be and the one God had created me to be.
• By allowing a certain person to remain in my life despite the problems she caused, I learned to speak up for myself and trust God for what I needed instead of looking to her.
Every area of my past that haunted me, the Lord transformed into a gift.
Holding on to Blame
My friend Lorna clung to the following verse as she worked through childhood abuse from her father: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
She shared a personal story that sent chills up my spine. Her dad had never expressed any love for her—only disappointment that Lorna was not the son he longed for. He held high standards for her in school and in sports, and when she did less than he expected, he dismissed her, never helping her improve and giving her the silent treatment for days at a time.
“I grew up with a cloud of doubt hanging over me until I was married and had children of my own,” she said. “I never wanted to do to them what my father had done to me.”
Lorna knew that God loved her. “Yet, I couldn’t shake my desire to hear my father say to me at least once, ‘I love you.’” Then came the day when she received a phone call from her mother with the news that Lorna’s dad was in the hospital in cardiac arrest. He had little time left. Lorna hurried to his room and stood for a moment in the doorway. She hadn’t seen her father in more than two years.
“I was surprised by his small body nestled in the center of the bed, his head resting on a pillow that seemed too big. He’s just an old and frail man now, I thought to myself, no longer the big guy that I was terrified of displeasing.”
Lorna said tears ran down her cheeks and all she wanted to do was kiss and forgive her father and say, “I love you,” regardless of what he said to her. “I was 52 years old by then, and I knew it was time to let go of the past. I still had a lot of life to live, and I didn’t want to grow into a bitter old woman.”
She grasped his hand, leaned over, and told her dad she loved him and thanked him for giving her life. He squeezed her hand and spoke in a hoarse whisper: “I’m glad I had a daughter after all. I love you.”
Lorna could barely speak. She kissed her father on his forehead. “In that moment, every bitter thought I’d held against my father vanished,” she said.
“If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Letting Go of Shame and Blame
There comes a time in our lives when we must get past our past in order to face the future. What better time than the beginning of a new year. My hope is that you will take this important step for yourself in 2015 so you can live in God’s grace, share his love, and rest in the certainty that regardless of what happens, the Lord has you in his grip and will never leave you nor forsake you, no matter what other people do to you or what you do to yourself. Happy New Year!
Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer from Watsonville, California (karenoconnor.com).
Letting Go of Regret
USA Today did a survey earlier this year of 1,000 adults age 60 and older.
“When asked about a preselected list of steps they wish they had taken ‘to plan and prepare for your senior years,’ the most-cited responses illustrate just how regret also plays a role in getting older,” reported Sharon Jayson.
• 45 percent wished they’d saved more money
• 36 percent wished they’d taken better care of their health
• 21 percent wished they’d stayed closer with family
• 17 percent didn’t find anything on the list that they regretted
Respondents said the biggest cause for optimism about their future plans is “the support of my friends and family.”