Do you have experiences in your past that you wish you could forget? Me, too.
For example: There was a time in my life when I probably would have given anything, if it meant I could forget that I’d been in an affair with a married man. (Yes, as a Christian.) I thought if I could forget the mistakes I’d made, it would undo them – like the affair never even happened. And then I wouldn’t feel so haunted or broken.
But in the decade since, I’ve learned a liberating lesson: Redemption is not a form of amnesia. God is more interested in erasing your shame than your memory.
Here are three theories why remembering the past is essential to heal from it and three ways you can recall your past for God’s glory and your good – without shame.
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1. Forgetting is not the same as healing.
If you’ve ever wanted to forget the past, you’re not alone: 8,000+ users search “forgetting the past” every month, according to Google Adwords.
But what are we really talking about here? The pieces of your past that you’d like to forget: do they prick with pain, stir up shame, or even provoke pride? They did for me. Aside from the affair, I have some experiences I wish hadn’t happened; choices I wish I hadn’t made because of the pain, shame, or pride they brought with them.
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“There is no healing outside of the Cross.”
Remembering can seem like a negative because pain, shame, and pride are typically viewed as negative—or at least not enjoyable—feelings, right? Especially if what happened privately also carries a public stigma. In fact, some people might even consider being an “other woman” unforgiveable. Even though I recognized my mistakes, walked away from that relationship more than 10 years ago, and now speak publicly about it as a deterrent to others.
But this is important: Forgetting is not the same as healing.
Forgetting the experience that evokes pain, shame, or pride is not the same as healing the wound that still hurts, confronting the shame, or choosing humility. And as my friend Mamahug wisely shares from 40+ years as a teacher & Christian counselor: “There is no healing outside of the Cross.”
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2. God designed our brains to heal.
Remembering painful parts of the past can feel like a negative is because it can literally create or perpetuate physical discomfort. Yes, your body remembers in ways you might not realize. Science has proven that even if you consciously don’t recall an experience, your brain subconsciously stores unresolved traumas in ways that can take a physical toll.
Ever felt “suddenly” triggered, having a physical or emotional response that seemed to come out of nowhere? But then you later connected it to a past experience? I have too.
Thanks to researchers like Dr. Caroline Leaf, I’ve begun to understand that our amazing Maker created us with brains designed for healing and renewal.
Your mind is meant to be an ally to your healing—not an enemy of it. And God’s given us incredible gifts in Creation (like certain essential oils) that can be used in ways that are scientifically verified to help your brain release past trauma. That’s what I’ve seen get the best results in myself and others: a holistic approach including the Cross, His Creation, and safe community.
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3. Forgetting doesn’t absolve us of personal responsibility.
Sometimes we want to forget the past because we’re tired of dealing with present consequences or effects of it.
I can’t know exactly what it’s like for you. But I can understand the humility it takes, the forgiveness it involves, and the maturity it requires to navigate current circumstances that stem from past decisions.
But dissolving a memory of a past mistake doesn’t absolve any of us from personal responsibility.
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3 Ways You Can Recall Your Past–Without Shame
1. Remembering the past inspires us to love better.
For me, the #1 reason to not forget the past is love – for God, others, and myself.
When I recall (not relive) the mistakes I’m capable of, it often helps me empathize with and love my neighbor because I can relate to the grace, mercy, and love I needed.
When I recall how hard but worthwhile it was to walk away, it helps me love myself as one worth fighting for because God calls me daughter, and His Son makes me redeemed.
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“…it inspires me to better love the hurting…”
When I recall the repentance that led to redemption, it’s easier for me to love God’s correction and redirection because I know it probably means He sees a snare somewhere.
When I recall the wisdom I’ve gained, it reminds me of why I love His wisdom because I know what being “wise” in my own eyes led to.
When I recall that others are now where I once was, it inspires me to better love the hurting through real hope because that’s the power we with pasts all carry.
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2. Remembering the past allows us to share our testimonies to glorify God.
Through Jesus and the (wisely told) word of our testimony, we not only experience greater freedom—we also help free others, too. They see in our own transformations the redemption that is possible. And that sows seeds of belief that if there was hope for you, maybe there’s hope for them, too. Without the contrast of what happened before Christ, how can there be testimony?
Can you hear the cries for authentic, unfiltered faith in an Instagram world? People need Christians who are willing to say that they have a past but they also have hope. Consider this possibility: the one who actually has the more vested interest in your forgetfulness or silence is the one overcome by your testimony?
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“What if we focused on freedom and healing instead of forgetting or concealing?”
What if those painful parts aren’t pointless? What if we learned to care for them like wounds instead of nuisances? And like the keys, not the shackles? What if we focused on freedom and healing instead of forgetting or concealing? What if we learned how to mine the beauty from the ashes?
And then we bravely, wisely spoke of the pains, problems, past sins, and people in ways that actually shone light into shadows (rather than hiding there ourselves)? Freedom comes through the presence of repentance, not the absence of remembrance. Memory of who you were doesn’t mean that’s still who you are. I am not proud of what we did, but I’m proud of what God can do – and not just for me, but you too.
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“…testimony wins territory in the very same area that the enemy tried to bury you.”
The greater delight to me is not that I forgot ever being in an affair. The victory to me is that I can recall and that I doshare what happened without shame. I can even claim my personal responsibility without beating myself up. There can be victory in memory. Memory is the foundation of testimony—and testimony wins territory in the very same area that the enemy tried to bury you.
So in those moments of wishing I could just forget, what was I really saying? I wish I could take it back. I wish it didn’t still hurt. I wish I wasn’t still ashamed.
But I couldn’t take it back. Yet what I can’t undo, He can make new. And it still hurt to remember, yet forgetting can’t do the work of healing. I didn’t know how to un-shame myself, yet He is able to do for me what I couldn’t do.
Now I no longer feel haunted by that part of my past because I’m not her anymore—even though there are still times when the accuser comes knocking, suggesting things like “you’re still her, you know.”
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3. Our past reminds us of who we are in Christ—redeemed.
Memory of the past also taught me a lot about authority in the present. When those whispers come, I usually do the same thing now that I started after the affair: I remind myself of who I am in Christ. I’ll even declare out loud that anyone in the natural or supernatural who has a problem with my redemption can take it up with my Redeemer. Case closed.
As I learn to reframe my past as an opportunity and not an obstacle, and as I’ve focused more on living forgiven than making memories forgotten.
Certain memories have faded, becoming fuzzier. Like dark denim run through the wash enough times. Or like faded photos developed in a darkroom. But that I’ve since brought out of the shadows and left in the sun.
Rebecca Halton is the author of Words from the Other Woman: The True Account of a Redeemed Adulteress.
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Originally published Friday, 18 January 2019.