Aleteia

How to let go of the past and move on

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Here are 5 steps to help you reconcile with painful memories.

Death, divorce, unemployment or health problems … the memories of hardships we’ve endured can forever scar us and impact our view of the world. We may wonder how to go on living with the painful memories that haunt us. But the key is found in that very question… 

 “To live with or without?” 

It would be a mistake to imagine “living without” one’s memories, one’s roots and scars. Contrary to what most people assume, one cannot “start over.” It’s a false notion. God can help us turn a page, but it’s impossible to tear it out of our life, no matter how big and dark are the spots it contains. The past is always with us; we can neither ignore it nor erase it. This would be tantamount to pretending to be someone else, an empty shell of our true self. Escaping a reality we can’t bear is a path that can take us into all sorts of dark places, addictions or even suicide. 

We must also understand that denial is an illusion. Ignoring our past traumas, trying to erase them from our memory doesn’t make them go away. We are merely putting a lid on them, but the wounds they’ve caused continue to fester. It’s like a dark family secret: no matter how well it’s concealed, it continues to spread its poison. 

Here lies another error, which is to live with or under the weight of our painful memories, allowing them to take over our mind and obscure our vision of the future. Whether stoically resigned, secretly outraged, or crushed by their weight, one no longer lives but survives. So, does this mean we are bound to remain prisoner of our own past? 

5 steps toward the future

The good news is that this is not the end of the story. Hope invites us to take a few steps toward a better future:

  • The first step is an act of faith: we’re not alone! Christ is with us every day until “the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). 
  • Second step is to humbly accept the reality.
  • The third is to forgive. Instead of feeling resentment and bitterness against those who have wronged us (which only makes things worse), we need to try to forgive them and entrust them to the mercy of the Lord – for we are no better (1 Kings. 19:4). 
  • The fourth step is the sacrifice: Sacrifice transforms suffering into love, powerlessness into creativity.
  • The fifth step is to keep on living, to dare to live and relive; for nothing and no one can prevent us from feeling love.

Father Alain Bandelier