Our house has recently undergone a major transformation as we added living space for my mother-in-law. During the building a lot of lumber was cut which generated many piles of sawdust. The carpenters were careful to measure and check their measurements before cutting the wood because cutting wood is a permanent change. We even have phrases like “measure twice, cut once” to remind us of the permanence of our decision when we have cut the wood. You cannot rejoin the wood once it is cut. Even if you glue or otherwise join the wood, it will be shorter because of the wood lost in the kerf-the slot where the wood was cut. Some strength will be lost that would not be lost in the uncut lumber.
Sawdust is the bits of wood sawed away from the lumber (or the “work”). Sawdust is worthless for the building construction and it is often swept or vacuumed away. It is the waste product of the productive work of building. So if you came upon someone piling up sawdust and trying to saw it again, you would think they were crazy. You can’t saw sawdust. There is no value in the action and nothing good is produced.
However, many people waste a lot of time sawing spiritual sawdust. As I noted before, sawdust is a product of action and is a visual reminder of the cutting process. In a sense, sawdust is the “past” of the finished product. There was a piece of lumber, now it is two pieces of wood, and the sawdust is left behind as a reminder of the action of the process of separation.
Some people have made decisions (or failed to make a decision) then spend long periods of times reliving the decision, digging up the pain and memories, and will not let the past go. Instead of letting the decision stay in the past, the bring it back to the future and agonize over it again and again. The result of this effort is bitterness, misery, failure to forgive themselves and possibly others, regret, and self-reproach. They can do nothing to change the past, nor can they “uncut the wood” to make things right. What can we do?
5 Steps To Dealing With The Past
- Accept it and own it. The past cannot be changed: it is part of the permanent record. When we get on a scale, the weight is not a reflection of what we intend to do in the future but choices we have made in the past. The attention to our diet, exercise, and other physical factors are reflected in the displayed weight. Wishing or regrets will not change the number. However, we can make different choices and those results will be displayed when we weigh again. What has happened is like the weight: you cannot affect it anymore.
- If needed, repent and ask for forgiveness. We may regret and ruminate over things that were poor decisions but not sinful. Perhaps you are beating yourself up because you didn’t finish college or you left a good job. Such actions do not demand repentance. However, some decisions you agonize over were also sinful rebellion against God. To move forward you need to ask God’s forgiveness. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus told the Ephesian church to repent and do the first works: the old habits of faithfulness that they gave up. 1 John 2:1 tells us that God is faithful to forgive our sins. If you are challenged with this, I urge you to read this post as well. It may be that you need to seek forgiveness from someone. Do so quickly so you can move on with life and know that you have tried to make amends for your offense.
- Learn from it. It does no good to ruminate over your regrets. However, take time to learn from your mistakes. Look at what you did and why you did it. What were the circumstances? What was your attitude that led to the choice? What can you do to avoid doing this again and create better outcomes in the future? You can take the power from Satan’s victories by turning them into victories for God when you create learning experiences to prevent future regrets.
- Let it go. The past does not hold onto you, you have the grip on it. You give it power to ruin the future. You give it power to hold you back and keep you down. If it was a sin and you asked God’s forgiveness, He no longer holds it against you. Learn from the past then let it go. You cannot undo the past but you can quit allowing the past to have power in the future.
- Create tomorrow’s fruits. Where you are today is the result of prior decisions. Where you will be tomorrow is a result of the choices you make today. You can change direction. The direction of the past does not have to determine the direction of your future. You can get on a different road, travel at a different speed, and choose new travelling companions. You can build on the foundations of the past or, if you are changing direction, build on its ruins. Plant good seeds today so you can eat good fruit tomorrow. Follow the wisdom of God’s word and build a great tomorrow, especially a heavenly eternal tomorrow, regardless of what you have done in the past.
*I can’t remember where I heard the illustration of trying to saw sawdust. It is not original to me.