“Nothing can be done about the past. Just get over it and move on.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that over the years. Perhaps we can sympathize with the sentiment that it is not good to be trapped in old experiences. But the belief that we can move on simply by repressing those events cannot be supported either spiritually or neurologically.
It would not be possible in the space of a blog to explain why our brains do not work this way. So I will refer the reader to Curt Thompson’s Anatomy of the Soul and Karl Lehman’s Outsmarting Yourself for a thorough understanding of how the mind processes painful experiences. But suffice it to say that when we encounter painful experiences which we are unable to make sense of at an emotional level, they get routed to parts of our mind that keep track of things which are too big for us to handle. And then those experiences affect how we view life from that point forward, usually without any conscious awareness on our part that those old experiences are still actively impacting us.
For example, if as a small child I am repeatedly humiliated whenever I express an opinion, and never shown how to resolve the emotional distress that creates, my mind will not only “remember” how painful that is, but will come up with all kinds of creative ways to avoid exposing any inner thoughts that could be challenged by others. What’s more, I cannot be talked out of my protective stance, in part because I am rarely aware of my evasive maneuvers, and in part because the part of my mind that is running that program does not listen to words and is unable to respond to my will to do otherwise.
So how do we heal? We obviously do not have access to a time machine that will take us back to our traumatic experiences and bring us a loving adult who can help us with our pain. And even in prayer, we know that God does not change history. What happened, happened.
While there is a great deal that must be said about inner healing, and many have done so elsewhere, there is one point I want to make here. That is the truth that most of the emotional content and relevant triggers surrounding a painful event are stored in the right hemisphere of our brains — which just happens to have no ability at all to deal with time! All linear processing of time, past and future, is done in the left side of the brain. This means that when Jesus takes us to the emotional event that has troubled us for perhaps years (or decades), we literally address those events as if they exist in the present — because “now” is all the right hemisphere understands. This means that even though we may be engaging with a part of our mind that was formed when we were eleven years old, God can engage with us at that point and transform how we experience that event in the present!
You see, something can be done about the “past” because it is still very present in our mind. I don’t know about you. But I think it was ingenious on the part of God to design our minds in such a way that even our past can be redeemed. We do not move forward by repressing those things that cause us pain. We move forward by allowing God to heal and restore all of our mind.