“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11
One of the lessons I’ve been learning recently has been quite hard to learn (which isn’t too surprising, as lessons go). This lesson, as near as I can describe it in one phrase, is that “memories can weigh you down.” That’s a rather odd statement, so let me explain it.
We (as humans) have a tendency to hold on to our past. That is a God-given tendency insofar as it makes us praise God for who He was (and who He is, and who He always will be). But it becomes a flawed tendency if our past makes us regard God as either less just or less relevant.
The simpler half of this lesson is that “bad memories can weigh you down.” When we dwell on “bad memories”–past events that irritate, horrify, or mortify us–it’s easy to become bitter. Whether or not we think we’re “angry at God” for these events is irrelevant, because whether we wish we had done something different or God had done something different, we’re still focusing on ourselves. By dwelling too deeply on bad memories, we willingly feed our self-centeredness and pride (qualities that are among the worst of our fallen nature), and our pride chains us to the ground.
The more complicated half of the lesson, however, is that “good memories can weigh you down.” That’s really a hard concept to grasp, so I’ll provide some elaboration. All of us have (hopefully) had times when we felt incredibly happy; these could’ve been stretches of time, special occasions, or just special moments. To remember those is to remember some of God’s most obvious blessings on our lives. But the nature of those times–and in fact, the nature of the past itself–is that it’s already happened. It’s ended. Thus, to dwell on even the good memories of the past is to cogitate something that WAS, and [in most cases] is no more. Because the memory is so good, it’s very easy to wish it were still happening, or that we were still in that wonderfully happy period of time. What’s wrong with this? Well, remember that, since God created the universe to exist in time, His perfect plan for us also exists in time–and is, therefore, linear (until, of course, the end of time). God has a reason for everything that has happened, is happening, and ever will happen. Thus, not only does He have a reason for how your life is right now, He also has a reason why your life isn’t how it used to be. In other words, the past is past for a perfect, divine reason. To dwell too deeply on the happiness of the past is to not dwell enough on the joy of the future–encased in God’s perfect plan.
I’ll provide an example of how this concept plays out. Pixar’s latest film, appropriately titled “Up,” focuses on Carl Fredricksen, a man who has had a very memorable past. He married the woman he loved and shared a wonderfully happy life with her…until she died. Now he lives alone, and holds the past as his most prized possession. He loves it and hates it at the same time. Later in the film, he has traveled to South America in a house full of balloons, but the balloons have lost much of their former helium. Carl’s newfound friend, Russell, has been taken captive aboard an airship, and Carl is unable to help because his house is stuck on the ground. Finally, Carl decides to do the unthinkable: he throws everything out of his house–everything that reminds him of the past, even his pictures of his wife. Only when everything is gone can his house rise from the ground, and only then can Carl soar above the clouds to take hold of the new adventure that awaits him.
While our choice may not feel as clear-cut as Carl’s, we do find ourselves at a similar turning point–even right here and now. We can consider the future an afterthought to the wonders of the past, or we can consider the past a precursor to the wonders of the future.
I do not say, “forget the past”–on the contrary, remember the past! There is much to learn from it. But do not let its memories become a stumbling block. They are intended to propel your faith upward, not to pull it down.
Truthfully, it’s only natural to treasure the past. It’s all our lives have ever been. But it is not all that our lives ever will be. Take heart. Christ has a beautifully crafted future for you, so make Him your greatest treasure. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” -Matthew 6:21