Do you ever find yourself defining life by before and after the deep hurt?
The horrific season. The conversation that stunned us. The shocking day of discovery. The divorce. The wrongful death so unfathomable we still can’t believe they are gone. The breakup. The day your friend walked away. The hateful conversation. The remark that seems to now be branded on our soul. The day everything changed.
That marked moment in time. Life before. Life now. Is it even possible to move on from something like this? Is it even possible to create a life that’s beautiful again?
I deeply understand this kind of defining devastation in such a personal way. I also know how Christmas can magnify all of that pain.
People who are no longer a part of our lives are missing from holiday traditions. Ornaments and photographs that should bring joy stir up feelings of bitterness and grief instead. Memories that were once sweet now only serve to widen the chasm between what was and what is.
So, what are we supposed to do with all of these mementos and memories? Do we go through our homes and throw everything out? Is it even possible to enjoy a season that’s supposed to be full of joy and cheer?
A few years ago when my marriage imploded, I didn’t think I had a say-so in keeping memories that were precious to me. I thought my marriage was over; therefore, my life had to be edited both going forward and backward. I went through the entire house and removed all pictures of “us.” I packed up some of my most favorite family mementos. I tried to untangle my life from anything that reminded me of what once was, because, well, because I didn’t know what else to do.
But completely sterilizing my life from the physical presence of reminders didn’t remove the pain. And while I’m so grateful our marriage took an unexpected turn towards reconciliation, I have not been spared the slow and grueling work of finding one’s way again after experiencing something that forever marks your life. I still have days when I break down and cry.
I imagine you have those days too. And if no one has ever told you how sorry they are for all that has happened to you, I will.
But, friend, can I whisper something I’m learning?
Staying here, blaming them, and forever defining your life by what they did will only increase the pain. Worse, it will keep projecting out onto others. The more our pain consumes us, the more it will control us. And sadly, it’s those who least deserve to be hurt whom our unresolved pain will hurt the most.
That person or people—they’ve caused enough pain for you, for me, and for those around us. There’s been enough damage done. They’ve taken enough. You don’t have to hand over what was precious and priceless to you and deem all the memories as hurtful. You get to decide how you’ll move forward.
We can’t edit reality to try and force healing. We can’t fake our way into being okay with what happened. But we can decide that the ones who hurt us don’t get to decide what we do with our memories. Our lives can be a graceful combination of beautiful and painful. We don’t have to put either definitive label on what once was. It can be both-and.
Maybe that’s part of what’s hard about moving on: the letting go. But what if it’s possible to let go of what we must but still carry with us what is beautiful and meaningful and true to us? And maybe this less-severe version of moving on is what will ease us to a place of forgiveness. There’s been enough trauma. So, because I don’t want anything else ripped or stripped away, I need to decide what stays and what goes.
This is what I need. This is what I want.
I want to look at my wedding album with joy again, even though an affair would be an eventual horrific reality for us. That day was still real and beautiful and completely worth treasuring.
I want to remember that vacation we took that we all loved without zeroing in on the fact that it’s also when I didn’t know what was going on. We were still making incredible memories full of laughter, sharing inside jokes, crazy competitive games, silly dances, and long dinner conversations. It was real and it was lovely. And I’m not willing to deny what I authentically experienced.
I want to look at that Christmas card we sent—with all of us dressed up and smiling—and not cringe, feeling like a fool or a fake. The family closeness we captured that day was real and so precious and completely true to me.
I want this for you too. However this translates within the context of your pain, those pictures, those memories, those times of togetherness . . . if they were a joy to you, they are yours to keep.
Other memories that are excruciatingly painful are yours to release. And those that are a tangle of both are yours to sort out into piles of keep and toss.
I know this isn’t easy, sweet friend. But let’s ask the Lord to help us stop giving pain permission to rewrite all of our memories. And let’s decide today that we don’t want to let pain ruin our future either.
Identify what’s stealing trust and vulnerability from your relationships so you can believe there is still good ahead with Lysa TerKeurst’s new book, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget. Find out more at ForgivingWhatYouCantForget.com.
Lysa TerKeurst is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. Her latest book is I’ll Start Again Monday (January 2022). Lysa lives with her family in North Carolina. Connect with her at LysaTerKeurst.com or on social media @LysaTerKeurst.