Admittedly, I have procrastinated writing on this topic because it hits close to home. In some ways, I would say I am addicted to the past. I find myself idealizing seasons of life which were anything but ideal. In addition, I spend too much time regretting decisions or mulling over hurts which are years in my rear view and should not be controlling my life now (nor should they have been controlling my life all those years ago).
Memories are powerful. I am thankful they can reconnect us with the past – people who are no longer with us and experiences which shaped us – but memories can also connect us to pain, anger, and regret. Few of us make it through life unscathed. Some are blessed to meet, marry, and love one person for his or her entire life. And, even those people experience hurt along the way from someone or some circumstance. No one is immune.
Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you. – John Piper
Relationship memories can be among some of the most powerful because they touch us at our core. We all want to be loved, seen, understood, and simply wanted. Reliving those times when someone looked deeply into our eyes and saw us in complete honesty can be intoxicating. While “intoxicated,” our minds drown out the less ideal memories. If we spend too much time replaying these scenes from our past, they will take over our lives. Our appetite for the thoughts we dwell on also grows larger over time; therefore Scripture tells us to meditate on God’s Word.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2, ESV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16, ESV)
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8, ESV)
Can you ever truly be free of relationship memories? Maybe not, but you can be free from the powerful hold they have over your life.
What can I do when I miss him or her so much that it interferes with my life?
First, be gentle with yourself. Whether it has been two months or five years, if you are hurting, that is a valid emotion. If you cannot seem to move on, it may be time to talk to someone about why this past relationship is such a roadblock. It takes me back to the John Piper quote near the beginning of this post. Sometimes the memories of past relationships hurt because they remind us of how we thought our lives would go. They remind us of the dreams we used to dream and the happiness we expected to have.
If words are left unsaid, say them in a letter. Pour it all out. Read it aloud and then burn it. With that, physically turn around and walk away in ceremonial fashion. Create a closure. From there, focus on what is ahead. Even if you do not feel motivated, take a step towards something new. A new ministry. A new friendship. A new city. This action is not to run from problems, but to step toward the next chapter in your life. The more you pour yourself into good and God-honoring pursuits, the less time your mind will sit idle longing for the past.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV)
What can I do when the memories bring back that familiar pain?
“It has been years, it still stings, and still feels like a hammer to my heart. When am I going to be able to move past this?!”
For a friend of mine, a familiar sadness comes around at a particular time of year. Because she knows it is coming, she can prepare for it. Do certain times of year, holidays, songs, or situations pull you back into the hurt of a lost relationship? Though a game plan for those times cannot guarantee you will feel no pain, it can help to soften or quell it.
There is also great healing in verbalizing your blessings. It may sound cliché or like an oversimplification of a deep problem, but habitually thanking God for specific blessings re-routes the mind. We are pulled to the negative when we let our minds run free, but when we say, “No, now we are going to think about all the good we have in our lives from freshly washed socks to a best friend,” we steer away from the negative abyss and toward our blessings.
Weeping is okay. When you need to cry, let it out. Holding in emotions is not a healthy long-term game plan. And, it will come out some other way if you do not: through anger, through depression, or even through sickness. But, after you have shed your tears, pore over Scripture and sing worship songs. Remind yourself constantly of God’s love for you and Christ’s sacrifice for your eternity. Even let the pain draw you closer to the Lord.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18, ESV)
What can I do when the memories ignite anger in my heart?
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27, ESV)
Anger is a normal human emotion. Scripture says God is slow to anger, which means that He does experience anger; and therefore it is understandable that we experience anger. How we handle it though is important. We must stay on top of our anger or it will control us.
Years ago, when I was struggling with some anger, a lady in my Bible study encouraged me to look at each person through the cross. It was a spectacular suggestion. When I compare the wrong others have committed against me, they never compare to the sin I have committed against a holy God. He forgave me only by His grace. I did nothing to deserve it. While we are on this earth, we will endure hurt at the hands of other sinners like ourselves. Even those who break our hearts can never offend us as much as we have offended God by our sin. Yet, even before we knew we needed a Savior, He gave His life for us.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8, ESV)
What can I do when the memories bring up feelings of shame?
After some relationships, I felt the shame of knowing I did not please God in my behavior. After others, I felt the shame of treating someone’s heart haphazardly. We can exit relationships feeling shame for several reasons. However, once we repent and are forgiven of those mistakes, shame is a hindrance.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)
Shame can be a weight, especially when it holds us back from running the race.
Have you repented before God for the behaviors you regret? Have you sought Christ-focused counseling for shame you had heaped upon you from an abusive relationship? Shame can point us towards our need for forgiveness, but wallowing in lingering shame does nothing but keep us bound in the past.
Is there anyone in your life who pulls you back into a shameful mindset after you make progress towards healing? Do you feel unworthy of healing, so you choose to cuddle up to the darkness? Are you afraid of what might be waiting for you – the scary steps you might have to take – if you let go of the shame?
If you have not considered counseling, give it some serious thought. I have found in my life that I am typically glad I tried something. Whether I choose to continue it or not, I am not usually sorry for taking the first step. Consider making that move and letting someone help you walk out of that valley.
There is no shame in asking for a helping hand. Even counselors get help from other counselors because we all need someone to talk to once in a while.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
It is time to let go of the shame. Yesterday is gone. God holds you and your tomorrow in the palm of His hand.
What can I do when the memories cause fear to resurface?
Not all relationship memories come with fondness or longing; some bring back horrific memories.
First of all, are you safe? Is this person still harassing you or trying to control your thinking? If so, that needs to be dealt with immediately. Do those who love you know what is going on? If you are genuinely afraid, have you contacted authorities or made housing arrangements to ensure your safety and the safety of anyone who might live with you?
If the fear you experience is not imminent danger, but post-traumatic in nature, please get into counseling as soon as you can. Maybe you have convinced yourself that you are just too sensitive and the stress, dreams, and anxiety will eventually go away. You are not too sensitive. If you relive your abuse (physical, mental, emotional, etc.) in any capacity, get some support. In addition to hurting people to their core, abusers convince their victims that the problem lies with the victim.
There are people out there who have been where you are now and want to help you. There are groups for support. There are specialists and ministries designed to work with such trauma. Fear is not a fruit of the spirit. The enemy loves to keep us afraid as we are far easier to control when we are hiding.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, ESV)
What can I do when the ‘What Ifs’ try to take over my mind?
One of the best conversations I had about this topic happened with, oddly enough, someone I dated years ago. He said that when he gets bogged down with thoughts about yesterday and the what ifs of his life, he refocuses his mind on today and the people in his life today. When he is focused on what is in front of him, he cannot get mired in what might have been or what might be in the future. My mind goes back to these words often when I am tempted to idolize the past or worry about the future. What is in front of me today? Who can I help today? Who has God allowed to be in my path today? My elderly neighbor who just wants someone to talk to. My friends’ children who still think I am a super fun playmate. My mom. My husband. My friends.
Fond memories can manipulate our minds into wondering about what life might have been like had we taken a different path. What if I had chosen a different college closer to home? What if I had taken that job or gone into the military right after high school? What if I had not listened to those people who steered me in this direction? What if? What if? What if? What if that relationship had worked out?
The past is seductive and filtered. Our memories cannot be trusted. Today matters. Once we make peace with the past and the people in it, we need to be present for who we have in our lives right now. Regretting the past is a cycle. Today will soon be the past. If we miss it because we are longing for yesterday, then tomorrow we will long for what we might have enjoyed today.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, ESV)
It is okay to remember the past and smile. It is okay to remember the past and cry. It is okay to remember the past, but it is not okay to live there.
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. – C.S. Lewis
Keep breaking free!
Are your relationship memories keeping you from moving forward with your life?
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