Making Peace With Our Past

Cultivating peace with our past is difficult but necessary. So, how do we find peace after experiencing hard things in our past?

Whether we are the ones that left a relationship and left scars in our wake, or there have been things done to us that we replay in our minds, the accusations of others and even the voices from our youth can be overwhelming. Things from our past play out loud in our present. The enemy loves to remind us of our failures and the pain of our past. We can feel bombarded by old tapes, and, when we are walking alone, we have nobody to help us refute them.

All of us live with regrets and even lies from our past experiences that show up in our present lives. If we don’t deal with them, they will very likely repeat themselves. It isn’t fun to face hard, traumatic experiences or words spoken over us or things we have done. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t done or had done differently. To be free of them, there are steps we can take to experience peace.

Elizabeth Cole joins Robert and Kimberley to talk about this very thing. Elizabeth is familiar with the journey. Jake Smith of Plumline (goplumline.com) told her, “You can never just leave the past in the past. The past always affects your present if you aren’t dealing with it.” Old school philosophy might be to “get over it” or “just move on” but if we don’t deal with the past, it forms and shapes our present.
“It shapes how you act, react, respond, and how you live your life because that’s what you are conditioned and trained to do based on your past experiences,” says Elizabeth. “Your body, your mind, and your emotions have been conditioned over time to protect you and to survive based on what you learned in the past. If you don’t bring those things into your future and look at it and dissect it and figure out what’s causing you to be who you are today, especially if you’re not happy with where you are today, you’re not going to move forward. A lot of growth can happen by addressing [your past].”

We can’t heal what we don’t acknowledge
One of the things from the past that Elizabeth is working through is issues with her family of origin. She is currently dealing with hurt, resentment, and sadness in her relationships with her parents, or lack thereof. Right now, in her present, this broken relationship impacts her often. They are a close family but as Elizabeth has grown, she can now see unhealthy patterns and ways she has been manipulated. She often feels dismissed, or as if she is a disappointment to them. Conversations with them can trigger her to shut down, or flare up and react strongly, almost like a teenager. Sometimes the resentment is so strong, she can’t even look at her mother and she wants to see that change. She is now aware that she needs to make peace with what has happened so she can respond differently. She doesn’t want to carry the heaviness of those interactions into the future.

Expressing hurt and honoring it
Elizabeth realizes she is responsible to do the work to discover what is driving her reactions and to find out how to be healed from it. The first step to making peace with the past is by feeling the hurt, resentment, and sadness over what is missing or what was lost, and honoring those feelings. She needed a safe way to express her feelings about the lack of relationship with her parents and what she missed out on as a child. She has been journaling about this, talking with a counselor, roleplaying what she wants to say to her parents, and imagining what she needs to hear back. The process is helping her explore what is underneath her feelings and driving her reactions. Verbalizing it or journaling about it  to acknowledge it really helps and that is an important first step.

Invite God into the process  
Kimberley remembers another important step that helped her overcome some of the pain in her past. Her process is a little different than Elizabeth’s because she’s not a journaler. One of  the difficult relationships in her past was with her mother-in-law who was unkind to her. As a new mom, Kim realized she couldn’t live with the relationship as it was, so she asked God to give her His eyes to see her mother-in-law in a new way, like He did. God helped soften her heart and look at her through a new perspective.
While Kim and Elizabeth process things differently, they both recognized that change had to start with them. Taking an accurate inventory of what’s going on is important for all of us. We must get to the point of asking God to change us, because that’s the only thing we can control, not the other person. God answered Kim’s prayer and met her in her willingness to change. Her relationship with her mother-in-law is now positive and strong. She has truly been able to see her through God’s eyes and love her where she is. Elizabeth has surrendered her hurts to God too and invited him into the process.

Many times, we must have God’s help to walk into healing, whatever that looks like. Sometimes, rather than a relationship that we need to make peace with, we sometimes need to make peace with lies from our past. Recently, in her Plumline development group, Elizabeth identified the ten most painful experiences in her life. She chose one to figure out what lie was attached to that experience. She realized her parents have responded in hurtful ways to some of the painful things she shared with them. The lie that surfaced from those interactions is that she is a disappointment and that she deserves to be dismissed. Identifying that false belief is helping her to see where it is playing out in other ways in her life too, not just with her parents. She sometimes feels like she has to play a perfect role with God and with others. When she feels like she is a disappointment, she shuts down and goes silent, and she starts performing, even in simple ways like cleaning.
Particularly if you were brought up in the church, you can sometimes fall into this kind of performance-based thinking and shaming yourself. This is not God’s heart for us. Overperforming and trying to match up to our ideal self is living from lies that are based on unhealthy patterns from our past. When our performance gives us positive affirmation and puts us in another person’s “good graces”, it reinforces the behavior and our belief that we need to achieve to be accepted and loved. On the other hand, when we fail, that same lie can lead to feelings of toxic shame that we aren’t good enough. When we confront those lies, we can move toward peace and live from our authentic, true self instead.
Elizabeth has confronted the lie that she is a disappointment by replacing it with the truth that she is “wonderful and lovely in her true essence”, regardless of how she behaves or what she does or doesn’t do. She is repeating this truth to herself often as she processes some of the pain of her past and what those experiences led her to believe. It’s like rewiring her brain to sweep out the lie and replace it with the truth.
Most of us have lies we believe based on past experiences too, and usually not just one, but many. A big part of making peace with our past is uncovering those lies and replacing them intentionally with truth.
But another thing we need to confront in making peace with the past are things that we know are true, things that we actually have done wrong. The truth is we have failed in certain ways. We have caused hurts and harm to other people along the way. As we examine those things, we can recognize there are always two sides to every story. There is often truth on both sides and both people involved are loved by God and need His grace.
As we work to make peace with our past, we can find freedom in being fully known by God and resting in His complete acceptance and forgiveness. From that place, we can take accurate inventory of what we have done wrong and repent, knowing we have to own those things to heal and move on.
We can also acknowledge the things that happened that we had no control over. Both are part of our story and all of these things become our testimony. While it can be tempting to just close the door on our past or move on to the next chapter of life, getting honest about the truth and lies from our past is necessary. That is where God begins His healing work as we invite Him into both places with us.

Kimberly shares a memory after her divorce where she went to sing on stage at church and the enemy began to attack her with accusations of her past failures, sins, and lies. Instead of losing heart, she acknowledged what was true and that she was the recipient of God’s grace. More than ever before she could rest in the truth of the words she was about to sing and she did, not letting those lies hold her back.

Our story, both the good and the bad, shows the magnificence of God

When we embrace our story, take accurate inventory, and receive forgiveness, we have a powerful weapon of peace going forward. We can combat the enemy with the truth and not get stuck in toxic shame. In moments where we might once have been inundated with lies and shame, we can choose to respond with compassion for ourselves and with the truth. We can replace negative thoughts and lies with what we now know instead. We can embrace our normal humanity and give ourselves grace.

In making peace with our past, we must look for the good things too. There are things to be grateful for, lessons learned, blessings given, hope restored. The dangerous thing in dealing with our past is that if we’re not careful we can start to create a feeling of entitlement and self-pity because of the hurts and harms we’ve experienced. We need to be careful not to make our past our identity but rather let it be something that can lead us to healing and humility. We can honor the sadness of things that have happened, and we can acknowledge what we lost and what the past cost us, but we can also let it move us toward truth and peace. In this exploration, we can rest in God’s love, forgiveness, acceptance, and grace. And, in that we find true peace that passes understanding.
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