Why Should We Look at the Past?
By Mark Sandford
We have heard it said that inner healing focuses too much on the past. We agree that too much can be unhealthy. But the point of inner healing isn’t what happened in the past; it’s what’s happening in the here and now. We should look at our past only to find the bad roots that have led to bad fruits in the present. As Jesus said, “A bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17). You don’t look for bad roots when the fruit is good.
For instance, two sisters both resented their father for being so self-absorbed that he hardly noticed them. But when they grew up, only one flew into a rage every time her husband didn’t notice her. The other respectfully shared her need to be noticed and gently invited her husband to talk it through to a peaceful resolution. The difference was that when they were children, the first sister judged her father while the second processed her hurts, forgave him, found healing, and moved on. Therefore, in their adult years, while the first sister needed inner healing; the second one didn’t.
We have also heard it said that we should live in the present, not in the past. Again, we agree! But the very reason we look at the past is to find out what’s keeping us from living in the present. As an adult, the first sister eventually decided to look at her past to find out what bitter roots and inner vows she was still living out in the present. For instance, she had vowed, “I’ll make my Dad notice me.” She renounced that inner vow, worked through her anger, repented for judging her father, and forgave him. This enabled her to stop projecting her childhood resentment on her husband. She stopped trying to force him to fill Daddy’s big shoes. She followed her sister’s example and respectfully asked her husband to hear her heart, which he tried his best to do. In short, inner healing enabled her to leave her past behind and live in the present.
Another example is a boy whose father constantly called him “stupid” and “idiot.” The boy numbed the pain by convincing himself that this abuse was “discipline” he deserved and that therefore, the names didn’t hurt. When he grew up, he thought he had left his past behind, but in truth, he was still a numb little boy, too unaware of his own pain to realize how much he was hurting his son by calling him the very same names his father had called him.
By God’s grace, this man became convicted that what he was doing was wrong. He tried his hardest to stop, but it didn’t work. In his weaker moments, the pent-up frustrations of his childhood exploded back upon him, overpowering his resolve to do what was right. He blurted out “stupid” and “idiot” and then called himself names, thinking that this was the “self-discipline” he deserved.
After hearing some teaching about inner healing, this man revisited his past, where he discovered his childhood inner vow to never feel pain. He repented of going to that inner vow for comfort instead of to God, and for the first time ever, he was able to feel not only his childhood pain but also the comfort of the Holy Spirit whom the King James Bible calls, the “Comforter” (John 14:16). In prayer, he renounced the lie that abuse was “good discipline” and that self-abuse was “self-discipline.” He realized that he needed to truly forgive his father instead of continuing to give him excuses. Because he could feel his own hurt, for the first time, he could identify with his son’s hurt. He learned to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
This man could now live in the present because he was free to stop living as the emotionally numb, self-punishing little boy of his past. He asked his son to forgive him. His newfound empathy kept him from ever again calling his son the names he had been called. Never again did he tempt his son to lock himself into the same numbness and self-hatred. Generations of abuse were stopped on the cross because someone dared to look at his past long enough to truly put it behind him.
The motto of inner healing might be phrased this way: “We visit the past to discover the present.” That’s because what started then is still happening now. Roots of bitterness lock us into the prison of our past. Inner healing frees us from having to live out a life sentence.