In the classic ’80s movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly journeys back in time to fix the mistakes of his dysfunctional family. Spoiler alert: He succeeds just in the nick of time with the help of Christopher Lloyd and Hollywood’s all-time coolest time-traveling DeLorean.
The franchise is built on a simple idea: Wouldn’t it be nice to change the past?
Unfortunately, there is no DeLorean that can alter the painful events that occurred a decade, a year or even a moment ago. Our mistakes aren’t any different—mulligans in life are just not possible.
Mistakes come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. Some are minuscule and can be easily whisked away. Others are epic and can lead to long-term regret.
But, the solution isn’t brooding over them. Dwelling on past mistakes is much like squirming around in quicksand—it only pulls us deeper into the hole. What we need is a solid rope to get us unstuck. But instead, we often receive one-liners such as “It’s not a big deal,” “Get over it,” or “Don’t worry about it.”
The list below is not a magical formula, but just a few points that will support a foundation for relieving our past mistakes. Hopefully, these pillars provide the solid cable we need to free us from the mud that incessantly seeks to bury us.
Embrace Your Humanness.
The first pillar to stand upon is to know that we are all human. We all make mistakes—they are inherent to who we are we are. The playing field is leveled, therefore, because we call relate to falling short in some way, shape or form. Some of us, like me, probably even have a special blooper reel in heaven. Whatever the gravity, however, we can all relate to missing the mark.
Thankfully, God gives us plenty of other real-life ragamuffins to whom we can relate. The Apostle Peter denied Jesus three times in public, but then became a patriarch of the faith. We also read of an insolent son in Luke 15 who abhorrently takes his father’s inheritance. The story ends with him returning home to an exuberant father who receives him with open arms. As The Book of Romans states, “None is righteous, no, not one.”
Know that Punishment Has Already Been Handed Down.
I’m thankful Jesus became a human being and understands our weaknesses. Not all mistakes are sins, but all sins are mistakes. Where we have directly offended God, Jesus died for whatever you did or didn’t do. And through His death and resurrection, our identity of “human sinner” is overruled by a new identity: “redeemed child of God.”
Because of this new affiliation, there is no need to continue torturing ourselves. Jesus already endured the ultimate pain and suffering so we wouldn’t have to. When He was nailed to a Roman cross, Jesus took on all of our sins and mistakes—big and small, past, present and future.
Get out of perdition and accept forgiveness. Then (and this might be difficult, but it is possible), forgive yourself.
Keep the Lesson. Lose the Baggage.
Who sold us the lie that we need to dwell on our mistakes? On the contrary, our mental health would greatly benefit from actually neglecting them. This certainly doesn’t mean denying the shameful parts of our story. It only means their negative power doesn’t have the power to keep us stuck. Then, we can choose, on our own timetable, when to give them attention.
This process is similar to scuba diving for treasure. We swim below to the deteriorating vessel in search of meaningful artifacts. When we dig up precious relics (memories), we can gladly take those with us. But when rusted, unusable ones are found, we are free to leave them behind. In fact, let them decay. If we do, the negative emotional impact of our mistakes will fade over time.
Focus on Moving Forward.
The future doesn’t change the past, but it soundly trumps it. If previous events painted a bleak picture, let the brushstrokes of hope create a more colorful future.
Think about it: Life seen as a marathon is difficult enough to run facing forward. But people who get stuck in the past have the added burden of running the same endurance race backward. It’s counterproductive to move in one direction while looking in another. Turn around. Potholes are much easier to avoid when we focus on what is ahead.
Even though we can’t change our past with a time machine or superpowers, we shouldn’t be discouraged. Even in our human state of constant repair, we have One who has already fixed our most important problems. So we can learn from our mistakes, look to the future and walk in the freedom of His forgiveness.