Editor's note: This article was originally published on Relevant Magazine. It has been republished here with permission.
In the classic 80s movie, "Back to the Future," Marty McFly journeys back in time to fix the mistakes of his dysfunctional family. He succeeds in the nick of time with the help of a nutty professor and a sports car time machine. Legendary Superman also attempts to re-write history after failing to save his beloved Lois Lane in the 1978 film, "Superman." In his grief, he hurls himself around the earth in the opposite direction of its spin, rewinding the clock, and avoiding tragedy.
Wouldn't it be nice to change the past?
But unfortunately, the painful events that occurred a decade, a year, or even a moment ago, cannot be altered - not with a DeLorean, nor with flying around the globe at supersonic speeds. Our mistakes aren't any different - mulligans in life are just not possible.
Mistakes come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Some are minuscule and can be easily whisked away. Others are colossal and can lead to long-term regret. In the latter case, there are no simple answers.
The solution to these checkered events certainly isn't brooding over them. It's much like squirming around in quicksand - it only pulls us deeper into the hole. What we need is a solid rope to get us unstuck. But instead, we often receive thread-like one-liners such as "It's not a big deal," "Get over it," or "Don't worry about it."
The list below is not a magical formula, but five points that will support a foundation for relieving our past mistakes. Hopefully these pillars provide the solid cable we need to free us from the mud that incessantly seeks to bury us.
1. Embrace your membership
The first pillar to stand upon is to know that we are all human. We all make mistakes - they are inherent to who we are. The playing field is leveled, therefore, because we all relate to falling short in some way, shape, or form. Some of us, like me, probably even have a special blooper reel in heaven. Whatever the gravity, however, we can all relate to missing the mark. This gives everyone a membership card to the most ubiquitous association on earth: The Being Human Club.
Thankfully, from a Christian view, God gives us plenty of other real-life ragamuffins to whom we can relate. The Apostle Peter denied Jesus three times in public, but then became a patriarch of the faith. We also read about an insolent son in Luke 15 who abhorrently takes his father's inheritance. The story ends with him returning home to an exuberant father who receives him with open arms. As The Book of Romans states, "None is righteous, no, not one."
I'm thankful Jesus became a human being and understands our weaknesses. Not all mistakes are sins, but all sins are mistakes. Where we have directly offended God, Jesus died for whatever you did or didn't do. And through His death and resurrection, we can carry another more important membership card labeled, "Redeemed, Child of God."
Because of this new affiliation, there is no need to continue torturing ourselves. Jesus already endured the ultimate pain and suffering so we wouldn't have to. When He was nailed to a Roman cross, Jesus wasn't wearing rose-colored glasses - He had no allusions for the all the past, present, and future sins for that which He was dying.
Get out of perdition and accept forgiveness. Then, forgive yourself.
3. Go to school
If we don't deal with our past mistakes, they will deal with us. That is why it's paramount to learn how we could have acted differently. Indeed, it is healthy to create space to assess how our past mistakes will inform our future decisions.
In theory, mistake's tutelage is best learned once, and its classroom attended only in brevity. I am akin, however, to hitting my head numerous times against the same wall. Only after suffering many bruises do I finally decide to change. I often wonder, "Will I ever graduate the school of hard-knocks?"
Maybe you can relate.
In any case, we can rest in the love of a God who is relentlessly patient with us, no matter how many times we must retake the same course.
4. Keep only the treasure
A key question is, "Who sold us the lie that we need to dwell on our mistakes?" On the contrary, our mental health would greatly benefit from actually neglecting them. This certainly doesn't mean denying the shameful parts of our story. It only means their negative power doesn't have the power to keep us stuck. Then, we can choose, on our own timetable, when to give them attention.
This process is similar to scuba diving for treasure. We swim below to the deteriorating vessel in search of meaningful artifacts. When we dig-up precious relics (memories), we can gladly take those with us. But when rusted, unusable ones are found, we are free to leave them behind. In fact, let them decay. If we do, the negative emotional impact of our mistakes will fade over time.
5. Focus on the road ahead
The future doesn't change the past but it soundly trumps it. If previous events painted a bleak picture, let the brushstrokes of hope create a more colorful future.
Think about it: Life seen as a marathon is difficult enough to run even forwards. But people who get stuck in the past have the added burden of running the same endurance race backwards. It's counterproductive to move in one direction while looking in another. Turn around. Potholes are much easier to avoid when we focus on what is ahead. Even though we can't change our past with a time machine or superpowers, we shouldn't be discouraged. In our human state of constant repair, we have One who has already fixed our most important problems. So we can learn from our mistakes, look to the future, and walk in the freedom of His forgiveness.
Eric is a missionary at heart. He has a passion to change hearts towards Christ through Bible-centric teaching and to create opportunities for the marginalized around the world. He earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Bethel College.