Skip to main content

Stuck in the Past

by Fr. John Welch, O.Carm.

It is very hard to let go of our past. Many of us live in the past, clinging to hurts, disappointments, and especially our guilt. The Lord is always calling us forward into our future, but we are stuck in our past. When we wallow in our past, we lose perspective. We miss the daily invitations to walk forward in faith. It is like trying to drive while always looking in the rear-view mirror.

The heart can make anything into an idol, into a false god. We can readily admit to making idols out of obvious things such as wealth and power, but to see the past as an idol may be more difficult. In our preoc-cupation with the past, in our obsessive rehearsal of it, the past becomes a "god." I worship at its altar and become enslaved by it,

When we cling to our past, we are actually exalting ourselves. We are making our lives, our sins, our wrong-turns so monumental we are sure the world has never seen such a mess, and that even God has walked away. Our ego can be inflated in telling our story in this grandiose way. Ego is good at making everything about "us."

Letting Go

We cannot change the past. And we are who we are because of it. We may even have to make amends because of it. But, what can change is our relationship to it.

The past does not have to define us and hold us back. Letting go of the past can be a matter of simply being more aware of our attachment to it, and slowly, with the aid of grace, learning to live in the present.

Or, our fixation on the past may be such that only a crisis opens us to change, and a new perspective. A dark time may be the occasion for healing and a growth in wholeness. That surrender may come only after we realize we are powerless to extract ourselves from our past. In the confusion, then, our ego may be open to God's love luring us past where we have found ourselves stuck. Some wounds of the past may require professional help, but that too can be a grace-enabled effort.

Our faith tells us the Paschal Mystery, the dying and rising of Christ, will be the rhythm of our days. Letting go of an unhealthy regard for our past can be one of those deaths that leads to new life. The very struggle we have with our past, and the discovery of God's mercy in that struggle, can help us be bearers of forgiveness and compassion for others. The truth of our lives is that we are loved by God in spite of everything. Mercy, forgiveness, and healing are always available.

The Bigger Picture

We do not have to make sense of it all. We may be unable to connect all the dots in our past. We cannot because we live immersed in Mystery. Only from the outside can our lives be made intelligible. God can take the jumbled pieces of our story, our ego-drama, and put them into their place in the great then-drama, the story the Spirit is telling. Our lives are really the story of God's mercies.

Consider Israel's past. Israel continually rehearsed all the ways it had not been faithful to God. But, the important memory was about all the ways God had been faithful to Israel.
The prophet Isaiah said:

Thus says the Lord:
Remember not the events of the past;
the things of long ago, consider not.
See, I am doing something new.
...It is I, I, who wipe out,
for my own sake, your offences;
your sins 1 remember no more.
Is 43:18, 19, 25

If God forgives and forgets our sinful past, what excuse do we have to remember it? Of course we will not have amnesia. But, what we will remember from the past are the blessings, the miracles that accompanied our days and years. We will remember when we were brought from slavery into freedom. And this memory will allow us to live the present in peace, and to anticipate the future without fear.


As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."