If you’re struggling with how to let go of the past, it’s not your past, it’s the present. I knew that, but until my husband actually said it to me, I didn’t know how much it was preventing me from growing, moving forward, and how it was causing my physical, emotional and mental health to suffer.
My husband and I had only been married for six months, when I was let go from my place of employment of six years. Getting let go from my job was one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. I had no warning or any indication that I was going to be let go. It happened very suddenly.
I came into work one morning, was sitting at my desk when my boss walked in and sat down. She explained that the pro life organization failed to meet the end of year financial donation goals and they needed to let me go. I had the option to stay on for two weeks or leave immediately. Shocked, I said, “I’m sorry, there’s no reason for me to stay. I packed up and left that day.”
While the shock of being let go started to settled in, the thing that was far more difficult for me to process was the feeling that no-one had advocated for me. I had built strong relationships with co–workers and yet none of them said anything to me except good–bye. There was no effort made by anyone on the board or leadership to try and figure anything out to keep me. Even though the non–profit was obviously experiencing financial challenge, I had plenty of experience and skill set to help them overcome that challenge.
In fact that was the primary reason I was hired for the position that I did have and in just two short years, I had turned my department around from being in the red, to being profitable and making money for the non–profit. This only further convinced me that the real reason that I was let go was because there wanted to get rid of me. The financial reason was just a perfect excuse. In so many ways, I felt betrayed, discarded, and not valued for who I was as a person.
Why can’t I let go of the past?
You have been deeply hurt—and it’s hard to dismiss something and let go from the past because it has hurt you so much. You struggle feeling like:
- it’s hard to trust again when you feel like you’ve been betrayed
- you have allowed someone else’s actions to define your identity
- you feel like you didn’t do enough or like you failed.
- you don’t feel accepted or like you measure up.
In my own experiences, I’ve been able to identify three specific things that make letting go of the past so hard.
- It is a deep hurt or wound. Unlike other hurts, this one nearly knocks your feet out from under you and cuts deeply into your heart.
- It’s relational. It could be any type of relationship, but either way, the past hurt is related to a relationship and another person in particular.
- The Instant Replay on Repeat. Much like in a sporting event you have the instant replay of a significant play in a game, we do the same thing with our past. Most often it is with negative experiences. Except instead of the replay real only happening once—like on TV—we repeat it over and over again. I talk about this more in Are You Flourishing in the Strength of a Renewed Mind.
All of this builds and if you’re anything like me, you feel defeated, like everything you have been and have to offer isn’t of much value.
For months after getting let go from a job that I loved, I cried and cried. The whole experience really knocked me down emotionally. Eventually a couple of my friends from church pleaded with me to go to a woman’s retreat. I was very reluctant to go because if you know anything about me—my past experiences have also contributed to me not liking women’s events at all.
But, my husband graciously said to me, “Honey, I think you need to just get away and spend some time to care for yourself.”
So I went. And, it was risky for me. I didn’t want to be there, but I needed to do something. Just like the lyric from the MercyMe SongThe Bright Side of Being Broken say:
Cause the bright side of being broken
Is a heart that’s busted open
With every break the
Light will chase
The darkness away
And that four day conference was the beginning of that darkness being chased away. It began that process of healing me from the inside out—so that I could let go of the past and move forward. It was a huge risk for me, but it’s kind of like a saying that I’ve come across recently.
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”—Author unknown
And really, this is why it’s hard sometimes to let go of the past: it is a risk.
If you truly want to let go of past hurts and move forward, the reality is that it’s a hard process. It’s much easier to just let it go and forget it and when you intentionally work through it you have to risk something in order to gain something. So what is it that you actually gain? The answer just might surprise you.
Why is it important to let go of the past?
Simply put, one of the most important reasons for letting go of the past is because it’s emotionally healthy. If you continue to rethink things of the past—either words that people have said about you, or what things you have or haven’t done—then it really takes a toll on you emotionally.
And if you are emotionally unhealthy, that limits you in every other area of your life. Because in order to happy in life and to thrive—it requires that you have a healthy lifestyle. But not just any lifestyle, a godly lifestyle. I talk about this more in What is a healthy lifestyle and why is it important to you?
When you let go of the past, it also gives you the opportunity to offer forgiveness, grace to others—and it helps you to learn.
Remember, unless you thoroughly journaled your experience, your memory isn’t always accurate. Even if you journal things, it’s from your perspective—your feelings and emotions also help to define and redefine the situation. Often there’s more things that contribute to the experience that we aren’t even fully unaware of.
So if to let go of the past is so important—then how do you do it? How do you let go of the past and be happy? Some Christians say, “Let go and let God.” But is that the best solution?
How to Let Go of the Past and Be Happy
I mentioned earlier, that most of our hurtful experiences are related to relationship and while I knew that, I had to remember some encouragement from my brother. Years earlier—related to another hurtful relationship experience—he challenged me to let go of the past and be happy.
What did he say?
“Sister, no matter how much you’ve been hurt, relationship is more important. Life is too short to allow a disagreement to prevent meaningful connection with your friend and for your happiness.”
Now, I need to clarify something here. He wasn’t saying to just let go of the past—just forgive and forget it. And I want to emphasize this, because many Christians cling to the phrase, “Let go and let God.” But to be honest, it’s just not realistic. Why? Because it implies that you just let God take care of it. But to let go of the past and move forward is so much more than just letting God do everything. What my brother was really encouraging me to do to let go of the past was to truly allow God to heal my hurt. Then, I needed to take action by seeing myself as God sees me and believe it. He encouraged me to learn and process through the hurt, and then forgive those who had hurt me.
So instead of “Let go and let God” maybe we should follow the theologian JI Packer when he says, “The Christian’s motto should not be “Let go and let God”, but, “Trust God and get going!” God created us for relationship with one another and we can’t be healthy in our relationships when we’re hurting from past hurts. And like Packer suggests, we need to trust Him and get going—take some action—to let go of the past in a godly way.
7 Steps to Forget the Past and Move On With Your Life
As I’ve already mentioned, in order to let go of the past and move forward—to truly be happy—we can’t literally just “let go”. If we do that, then we’re just burying it for the moment. It will come back again. We really need to process through and learn from that experience.
Here are a few things that I did to help me:
- First, identify what is it from the past that is acting more like it is a present struggle? Take 5 minutes right now and right down the first thing that comes to your mind.
- Journal about the physical details of that past struggle. Write down all that you can remember about that situation. Was it a one time event? Or ongoing?
- Write down some emotional details. How does this make you feel? Hurt? Disappointed? Rejected? Not good enough? Is there a person or persons that were a part of that situation?
- Why do you think that past hurt is something that you continue to struggle with? Only you can truly know the answer to this question. It could be related to relationship, broken trust, or hurtful words that were said about you or actions against you. When you think about letting go of hurt and betrayal, most of the time it will rise up emotions in you of hurt and pain towards others.
- Identity the ways that this experience has been attacking your identity in your self talk. You’ll see some similarities in how you describe how you feel or how someone made you feel. Or even in some of the words that others have said to us. But most often this shows up in the words we tend to say to ourselves like:
• “I’m never…”
• “I always don’t do this right.”
• “I should…”
- Replace your negative self talk with God’s Truth about who you are in Christ. What you say to yourself matters! It directly relates to your emotional health—but it also relates to your spiritual health. Look in scripture for verses that describe who you are in Christ. Write those down on a 3 x 5 card and read through them on a regular basis. When those thoughts come back to your mind, replace those thoughts with these truths.
- Be willing to forgive. This is what I believe is the real key for you to be able to let go of the past and move forward in life in a way that brings true healing and happiness. It moves your hurt from a place of continual hurt into a place of healing and learning. Notice I’m not saying that you automatically offer forgiveness towards those who have hurt or wronged you. I’m inviting you to soften your heart and open yourself up to forgiving others. Be willing. Be brave to open the door of forgiveness today by simply praying for that person’s well being. I know it won’t be easy. I’ve been there…but praying for that person is a start in the right direction.
But…if you are unwilling to offer forgiveness, then your heart will remain hard and you’ll continue to process and re–process those past hurts. In turn, you won’t really be able to let go and move forward. Pastor Shawn Johnson from Red Rocks Church, Denver, also shares in his sermon “When Past Hurts Still Hurt” that forgiveness is what set him free. He felt free from guilt, shame, and was able to move forward in peace and joy. Forgiveness takes time and doesn’t happen quickly, but may this let go of the past quote help encourage you to start being willing to forgive today:
“Don’t ruin a good today by thinking about a bad yesterday.” —Author Unknown
I’d like to say that as soon as I got a new job that my feelings of hurt from getting let go from my previous job all disappeared. But they didn’t. I continued to struggle for quite awhile. Mainly because I was so hurt that I was unwilling to forgive those involved. I wrestled with the continuous thought, “How could they really treat me this way? We were like family!”
It was hard to face my disappointment in life and being hurt by others.
God did give me encouragement and healing through my new job. In my new role, I was given the responsibility of writing a proposal for a contract with a multi–million dollar company. The proposal specifically was for managing a 20 million dollar account. Not only did we get the account, but they also added more work to it. It was like God was confirming for me that even though it was painful, the circumstance of hurt that I experienced didn’t have to do with me personally, and for my skillset. I was capable of helping that organization out with their financial struggles—but God had plans for me elsewhere.
Do Those Past Hurts Ever Really Go Away?
I’d like to say that when we go through the difficult process to let go of the past, that those hurts go away completely. But, remember, we are relational. And with that we love and hurt deeply and it’s likely that you will always experience some form of hurt from your past—even though you’ve moved forward in life.
Even this week I saw the name of one of those individuals—who I felt wronged me—on facebook. Still to this day, ten years later, I experience a rising up of feelings of hurt. But, today I’m different. How? Because in that moment, instead of lingering on those past hurts, I simply prayed for that person and moved on. I could only do this, because I have really moved on—I have really let go of the past. I’m emotionally healthy because I’ve let go and truly have forgiven that person.
And this is my hope for you today—that with these basic suggestions you would be able to start the process to let go of the past hurts as well. So that you can truly move forward too! Because, if you truly want to move forward, you’ll have to go through, not just let go.