One of the most difficult aspects of the spiritual life is how to deal with past memories. For a few fortunate souls, their past represent a period that brings little anxiety or regret to their present. These souls are blessed to have memories that bring them neither pain nor confusion. For many other folks, the memories of their past are a mixture of joy and sorrow, of both victories and crushing defeats.
For such folks, among whom I would include myself, memories are often a hindrance to present happiness and flourishing. It can seem like past sins and defeats are a constant reminder of how weak we are and how prone we are to error and sin. Around these memories, there are often lies about who we are that continue to endure despite the sacrament of confession and a genuine turning from the excesses our past represent.
Much can be said about the healing that needs to take place around these memories, but I offer two insights that I think can help.
First, don’t believe the lies. Often the Devil attacks us with our past sins in order to prevent us from being receptive to God in the present. If we have confessed our sins, then we must believe that we are truly forgiven. This is, of course, not as easy as it sounds. Many people remain haunted by past faults and sins despite the forgiveness received through the sacrament, and this is primarily the work of the Devil.
We must counteract the lies of the Devil with a more powerful truth. Through grace, we become “Beloved Sons” of the Father. This phrase is loaded. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, and as such he shares equality with God because he is God. The powerful reality that breaks the bonds of sin is that through Jesus Christ, we are offered Divine Sonship. We are united with God and given a greater dignity than we are capable of earning.
God loves us first and gives us the grace of adoption. We don’t earn it. Yes, we must respond to this grace and live lives worthy of such a noble calling, but the reality is that we don’t earn our salvation. It is pure gift. Thus God loves us despite our sinful pasts and all the things we have and will continue to do wrong. The key is that we must turn to him.
This is the second insight, we must turn to God. Our memories will heal with God’s grace, and our memories will be purified with time and patience. In order for this purification to take place, we must turn to God often and frequently. This is essentially what prayer is, a turning of the heart towards God. If we bring everything to God, and do so on a regular basis, I believe that we will experience great healing in our memories which will give us the authentic freedom to love as God loves. This means to love God and neighbor without condition.
Is not this the goal after all? We don’t want to merely get by. I believe that each one of us wants to love with a depth and fruitfulness that radiates an authentic joy which is truly Christ-like. We want to love how God loves, without condition and without counting the cost. The reality is that often our past stands in the way of such a free gift of self.