What would you say to a person who has decided that the past makes the future impossible? Sometimes we might even be tempted to think that way about our own lives. How do we live with a past that seems impossible? There are at least, it seems to me, three things we should remember. First, the past for all of us is a mixture of good and bad. For example, even a great saint like St. Paul was in his early life far from holy. He participated in the murder of St. Stephen and likely was involved in the execution and jailing of other innocent people. St. Augustine’s early years were so wild that his mother feared for his life. It’s a rare person indeed who can look back and be proud of everything. But if a questionable past could shut out the future, then history would have lost some of its greatest leaders. Secondly, preoccupation with the past is useless unless it is used to guide
us in the present and the future. There is nothing unhealthy with looking back as long as our purpose is to learn from it. As the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” But if we spend our time simply lamenting our mistakes and dwelling on our failures, we will destroy ourselves. We can’t change the past, but we can learn not only from the good but from the bad that has been part of our lives. Thirdly, it is possible to redeem the past by living responsibly in the present. There is an old proverb that God never allows one door to close on us without opening another one. God is active in our lives to always provide us new opportunities, opportunities that allow us to change and grow and produce good fruit in place of the mistakes we may have made. St. Paul and St. Augustine are wonderful examples of his grace overcoming the past. New life is always possible if we look at the opportunities of the present and the future rather than lamenting yesterday. We need to take our minds off what might have been and think about what can be in God’s grace.