Perfect timing: today I hoped to write about sending past regrets, mistakes and failures off into the wilderness to be forgotten forever, but I couldn’t find the right hook. Then a She Blossoms reader asked what to do when the past keeps returning to haunt you — and bingo! The path became clear.
What do you do when the past keeps returning to haunt you? Here, you’ll find practical tips and ideas for coping with past mistakes, regrets and failures. You may find your load lightening a little, and perhaps even start forgiving yourself and moving forward. We’ll start with the reader’s comment:
“This morning I searched for ‘how to deal with giving up a pet‘ and came across your website. The thoughts and memories of the whole ordeal seems to bother me still. I thought I’d shaken it but it keeps coming back. The regret and guilt, especially since the dog was our family dog that our daughter was attached to. I broke my daughter’s heart doing this thing, but we moved out of the country and my daughter and wife were already in another country. I cannot believe this is still haunting me. No one understands why this bothers me so. How do I overcome this pain? I remember the day I gave my dog to her new family. She did not want to go. This memory is tormenting me…or maybe it is an unresolved pain that has resurfaced. How do I heal and move on in life?”
You can read his full story — including the touching way he adopted the dog and his understandable reasons for letting her go — in the comments section of my About Laurie page.
Here you’ll find three tips for coping when the past lifts up its sad, tired, old head.
When the Past Keeps Returning to Haunt You
If you’ve read my recent She Blossoms blog posts or newsletters, you know I’m working on a She Blossoms Through the Bible project. I’m writing an article for every chapter in every book of Scripture. Right now I’m reading the book of Leviticus and today is chapter 16: The Day of Atonement (which fits perfectly with the idea of coping when the past keeps returning to haunt you!).
1. Dig up and examine the root of your pain (self-examination)
The complete removal of past sin, regret, mistakes, failures and guilt was forever washed clean from the Jewish people on the Day of Atonement. This was the most important day in God’s laws for Moses and the Israelites because on that day the removal of sin was given its highest expression. Leviticus 16:30 says, “Atonement will be made for you on this day to cleanse you, and you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord.” This was an annual purging of sin and contamination, a fresh start and new life in God. The Jews’ real and perceived sins were wiped clean on the Day of Atonement; the mistakes, regrets and guilt of the past year were never supposed to return and haunt them. But I expect the Jews still struggled with guilt and shame because they were human…just like we are. They, too, had to learn what to do when the past kept returning to haunt them emotionally — even though they intellectually knew they were forgiven and purified on the Day of Atonement.
What is underneath the feelings that haunts you? Glossing or covering over the guilt, regret, shame and grief won’t heal it. You have to go beneath the surface emotions to the root of the pain. For example, I struggled with self-hatred and insecurity for decades. I grew up with a single schizophrenic mother, I moved in and out of foster homes, and I’m highly sensitive and intuitive. As an adult one of my biggest struggles is not judging, criticizing or condemning my husband, family members and close friends for not knowing what I know. As soon as I discover something new, I judge my loved ones because I assume they should be smarter and better than I am. My roots were poisoned by insecurity, shame and self-hatred — and I had to dig them up.
2. Plant fresh seeds in your heart and soul (emotional healing)
Reading through Leviticus — especially the sacrificial system — has strengthened my relationship with Jesus Christ in unbelievable ways. It wasn’t until I closely read the Old Testament that I really learned what Jesus did by dying on the cross. For example, God told the Israelites not to drink the blood of animals because that was the life of the animal. God wanted the Jews as His chosen people to get life from Him. Blood symbolized life; the Israelites were to rely on God for every aspect of their lives. And then Jesus came along and said “drink my blood for I am Life”! This is amazing — no wonder the Pharisees (religious Jewish leaders and priests) couldn’t accept Jesus as Christ.
In John 6:53-58 Jesus said “… unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves.The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day, because my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the manna your ancestors ate—and they died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Decide who and what will replace the past that haunts you. My emotional problems (self-hatred, insecurity, shame) weren’t completely healed when I went to counseling — but my counselor did help. My childhood pain wasn’t erased when I stopped hiding the fact that my mom is schizophrenic and I lived in foster care — but it did help to come clean about my past.
Writing Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back so I could teach others what to do when the past keeps returning to haunt them was also helpful…but it didn’t fully heal me. The only thing that truly, deeply, permanently healed my emotional wounds was spending time alone with God. I remember the exact moment the walls started crumbling down: I was walking in the forest at dawn, listening to a Tim Keller sermon on podcast. Keller was preaching through the “Our Father in Heaven” prayer…and God’s love as my Father washed my spirit and soul clean.
3. Cultivate the sprouts and blossoms (spiritual growth)
Leviticus 16 describes the how and what of the Israelites’ sacrificial system. The priests were to do this, the Jewish people were to do that, and the goat had to run off into the wilderness. Wait a minute, though…the goat running off into the wilderness is actually hugely significant! The goal was the “scapegoat” — all the past sins of the Israelites were place on that goat’s head. It wasn’t crucified; it was sent off into the wilderness. Sins were forever removed, permanently cast off into a desolate land. Leviticus 16: 21-22: “Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ iniquities and rebellious acts—all their sins. He is to put them on the goat’s head and send it away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task. The goat will carry all their iniquities into a desolate land, and the man will release it there.”
How will you choose to keep living in freedom from the past that haunts you? I can’t give you a formula or even quick tips for coping when the past keeps returning to haunt you. I can’t even tell you the best ways to stop remembering the past without feeling ashamed or guilty. Why? Because the accuser — the devil — is constantly throwing your past guilt, shame, regret, failure and mistakes at you. The devil wants you to live in your past sins, to struggle with self-hatred, insecurity, and pain. He wants you to live in darkness, to keep wondering what to do when the past keeps returning to haunt you! You are playing into his evil hands when you sit at his table.
God, on the other hand, wants nothing more for you than freedom, life, joy, and peace! Jesus Christ offers nothing but life, light, hope, faith and forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is the key, the bridge, the lifeline that tethers you to God and Jesus. All three are in a divine dance — and they are all calling you to join them. The only thing holding you back is you. Who will you choose to listen to? What seeds will you choose to plant, grow, nurture and allow to blossom in your life?
The best and only permanent solution is to take your pain to God. Get quiet and still for 15 or 20 minutes a day. Spill your pain, weep over your past, and share your pain. And then listen. Let God plant seeds of healing, hope, love and faith in your heart. Turn your face to Jesus and let His forgiveness wash over you. Open your heart to the Holy Spirit, and allow His power to strengthen and revive your soul.
With His love,