Letting Go of the Past

We’ve all been around people with bad tempers who don’t handle stress too well. The truth is that there are believers who act this way, just as there are unbelievers who do the same. That may sound shocking since those born of God will produce the fruits of the Spirit to some extent, but we should never assume that those who struggle with what we will discuss in this small topic are not saved because Christians can struggle with those things too! But the issue here is people who allow their struggles to get way out of control to the point where they continuously and consistently harm themselves and others.

Many people in the church have gone through some harrowing ordeal in the past or had a rough life growing up, explaining their present behavior. Even though this explains it, however, it does not excuse it. There is never an excuse for misconduct and sinful behavior because it all comes down to how we respond to and handle our present and past circumstances. With God, all things are possible (Philippians 4:13; Luke 1:36-37; Job 42:2), and if we choose not to exercise faith, we can’t do anything good at all (Hebrews 11:6).

For example, some people experienced harsh treatment and abuse from others when they were younger, so that they allow their anger, hurt, and frustration to get the better of them in difficult times. When times are good, it isn’t as much of an issue. But once the going gets rough, then the ugly side of people begins to emerge. But even less strenuous times won’t always appease those who struggle with anger and past hurts. This point depends on the person in question and how bad a case they suffer. Some people go off like a lightbulb, while others need a little more agitation to set them off. Nonetheless, there is no excuse for any of this behavior.

So how should believers go about handling their struggling brothers and sisters in Christ?” A reply of “just get over it” is a terrible and unbiblical answer because overcoming these types of difficulties takes time and effort. However, they must take action, something those in question must employ if they ever want to have any hope of winning the fight against the flesh and the devil.

Many people presently operate based on their past fears or their present anxieties. But Jesus is our commander, not our feelings. We may think to ourselves, “But this happened in the past, so it will probably happen again”! Or we may consider to ourselves, “I have a good reason to be upset because of what so and so did to me. Therefore, I have every right to entertain angry and bitter thoughts.” That is playing with fire! We must not allow other people’s failures to hold us captive like chains by keeping us from moving forward in our spiritual progress. We are to be slow to anger and quick to get rid of it when it does come so that the evil one doesn’t take advantage of the situation.

One of the biggest things we need to remember is that love is not easily angered. And not only that, but it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). This mentality is not easy to achieve, but we must attain it! If we don’t make an effort, can we ever expect victory?

We cannot let the past dictate the present or the future. The past is the past, the present is the present, and the future is the future. We can’t change a single thing positively by worrying (Matthew 6:27), nor can we make tomorrow any less stressful by adding to the problem by fretting over the issue (Matthew 6:34). Whatever wrong others have done to us, we can rest assured they will have to answer to Christ for their sinful deeds (Matthew 12:36). If we stand against this type of behavior and want to put a stop to it, why continue hypocritically doing it ourselves? Just because someone treated us a certain way does not give anyone an excuse to reciprocate that behavior to others as a way of taking out our hurt on different people. If someone slaps us on the cheek, should we slap them back? We know the answer to that question (Matthew 5:38-40). Did we dislike the treatment others gave us, wherever and whenever it occurred? Then we need to make sure we do unto others as we would want them to do to us (Matthew 7:12). Why should others suffer from us when we don’t have to behave in such a way? Since we can control our thoughts, words, and actions (with the Spirit’s help), we are without excuse and just as guilty as those who provoked us to such behavior. The truth is, nobody drove us to act the way we do; we pushed ourselves to that state. And if we can get ourselves into something, we can (through the Lord’s strength) get ourselves out in the power of the Spirit. It all comes down to free will.

So unless a person has gone insane to a point where they can’t think and function as they should, nothing excuses them from mistreating others. Whether this person is a Christian husband who beats his wife, an angry man who shouts at others because his father abused or mistreated him in his youth, a person who endured bullying growing up, or an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder, God will hold them all accountable for every wrong they commit.

Speaking of post-traumatic stress disorder, that is a difficult one. We must be ever so loving and patient with people like this, no questions asked! It is most likely that we have and will never experience what they had to go through (all the more reason to respect and appreciate our military service members past and present). Some people need assistance from medical professionals, especially if there is a danger that they may hurt themselves and others; see (Believers and Mental Illness - Antidepressants, Counselors, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?) for more on that. We must handle people like this with utmost care and sensitivity because their condition makes developing the correct spiritual perspective all that more difficult. Oh, how our Lord and Savior loves them just as He does all men, and we should demonstrate this same love of Christ to a higher degree to those who are hurting! When Jesus said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick” He referred to unbelievers (open to the gospel message) without God in their lives. But think of how much love we should demonstrate toward a fellow sibling in Christ who not only hurts spiritually but mentally? If the condition doesn’t get better and even worse, then professional assistance may be necessary, depending on the severity of the disorder. Whichever route the person takes, the Lord WILL work it all out for good so that anyone who truly desires to please their Savior as much as possible regardless of their circumstances will live a fulfilling life for God with a bountiful crop awaiting them in heaven.

Suicide is another matter to consider, also related to our present discussion. I have written about it separately here.

Taking these examples into consideration, let us now resume our subject on how to handle and help brothers and sisters who struggle with past hurts and treatment. No one can ever fix a problem unless they know and acknowledge they have one. Or maybe they are aware of it and just don’t care. God doesn’t excuse either person in both circumstances. But He does forgive them and waits on them as a loving father would. Our Savior is patient and caring like that.

As we have mentioned above, the saying “get over it” is an unbiblical copout that caters to the one who said it because they often use that as an excuse not to do the right thing. Many people usually avoid doing that because it takes patience. Yes, we are all accountable to God and must make the effort of spiritual growth, progress, and production ourselves in Christ’s power. But our Lord expects all of us to bear with one another in patient love and forgiveness (Galatians 6:2).

We don’t return hurt for hurt or wrong for wrong. Instead, we turn the other cheek and listen carefully to those struggling with their past and present feelings. If we mimic their behavior, we only prolong the vicious cycle that started with one person, went to another, and ended up with us (if we allow that). The best way to approach other Christians (and even unbelievers) like this is to speak gently in love and listen attentively and carefully. It is best to move on from people like them who refuse our help because they won’t desist from their way of life. The best we can do is pray for those individuals and hope they come around through the Lord’s grace. Perhaps they will have a turnaround later in life? But maybe they won’t change or will transform very little. Only the Lord knows their future (1 Kings 8:39).

Gentleness is another fruit of the spirit we must employ with suffering and hurting spiritual family members. Yes, there is no excuse for all the wrong they do, but we must do our best to restore, exhort, and rebuke such people in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:10). However, we must not allow their bad behavior to rub off unto us where they negatively influence us by getting us to compromise. That is not what it means to bear with and restore others. We must never “baby” or pamper people while failing to tell them what they need to hear at the right time with the correct motives. That will only bring trouble because we will leave out so many vital truths while adjusting ourselves to the potentially harmful desires of those who listen to us. True Christ-like love will manifest itself through the fruits of the spirit truthfully and honestly. That doesn’t mean some things should be said a certain way at certain times, for they most certainly shouldn’t. We have to exercise caution in choosing and using our words when attempting to help others. But we must still lovingly speak the truth. And we must not improperly judge or condemn said person when we have no room or place to do so because this will only bring judgment on ourselves (we must not make any assumptions but work with what the other person gives us) Matthew 7:2.

As to what we should say, there are many biblical possibilities. This factor depends on so many others because there are many variables. If we trust in the Lord and heed His still, small voice, then He will guide and convict us on how to approach the other person as we should. We should always take the matter to the Lord in prayer first.

Finally, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Some people take months and even years to grow out of bad habits and attitudes due to the weight of the burden they have allowed themselves to live under for so long. We must continue to exercise patience and remember that as long as they care and attempt to change (resulting in success), that is all that matters, even if it takes slow baby steps to reach the desired goal. We could always advance more quickly, but this can depend on the person and the challenge they face. Some things take longer than others to heal, so we should always keep that in mind. Either way, Jesus is pleased with the smallest amount of faith from us. As long as our efforts continue to produce improvement, that is enough to “put a smile” on our Lord’s face. He is pleased with every bit of effort we put into spiritual growth and, in this case, recovery. And if these efforts continue, they will lead to great eternal rewards! Blessed is the man who does not give up!

Matthew 17:20 (NIV)

20 He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Galatians 6:8-10 (ESV)

8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.