Leadership Lifter: Letting Go of the Past

by Rick Warren

It doesn’t matter how wealthy you are, how famous you are, how many things you have in life, if your relationships are bad, life is miserable. Very often, the reason why our current relationships suffer has nothing to do with those relationships, and instead, is rooted in problematic relationships from our past. And you will never be an effective leader if your past prevents you from fully engaging in your present. Your happiness, and your effectiveness as a leader, is largely determined by your ability to get along with other people. The Bible is the greatest book on relationships. The Bible talks about building a relationship with God and a relationship with each other.

Philippians 3:12-14 tells us, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But this one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Paul is pointing out a fact: He says I let go of the past and strain toward the future and he’s making a point that we need to learn in relationships — I cannot relate to the present if I’m still reacting to the past. We bring so many unresolved problems into our current relationships.

A few years ago my wife and I had dinner with a couple whom I had married a few years prior to that. The lady said, “When I walked down that aisle in that wedding gown I had no idea that I was carrying with me all kinds of emotional garbage into this relationship. I had to let go of that garbage before this relationship could really get a solid foundation.”

We all carry emotional garbage of three types:

    • We rehearse our resentments. We go over and over our bitterness, the people we’re angry against, and the people that have hurt us.
    • We remember our regrets, the things we’ve felt guilty about, the things that we regret (“If only…”) and remember those things.
    • We reinforce our remorse. And we feel down.

    When you do those three things and you carry that emotional garbage it tends to cause us to react to relationships from our past, rather than enjoying our present relationships and seeing them in their true light.

How do you spell RELIEF? Paul says in verse 12, “I let go of the past and I hold on to the future.” Forget the former and focus on the future by doing three things:

1. I MUST GIVE UP MY GRUDGES.

Ephesians 4:31 tells us, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate toward one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” Get rid of all bitterness. Chuck it! Throw it away! Eliminate it! Don’t hold on to resentment. If you do, it will ruin your relationships. There are few things in life that cause more damage to relationships that resentment. We depend on other people to meet our needs — physical needs, financial needs, social needs, and spiritual needs. And when our needs are not met, we become angry and resentful. “You’re not meeting my needs!”

The problem is it doesn’t work. It’s uncomfortable. When you’re resentful, it doesn’t upset the other person, it upsets you. They may be out having a great time, and you’re at home stewing and spewing saying, “I can’t stand that person!” You are the one in pain. And that pain may be from something that happened years ago! Resentment never hurts the other person; it hurts you. And it is a waste of time. No matter how much time you spend resenting something from your past, it will never change the past. It never resolves the problem. It only makes it worse.

It’s controlling. When you say to somebody, “You make me so mad!” you are admitting your weakness. “You make me…” that means “you” can control my emotions. You have the power to control me. Nobody can make you mad without your permission. You are allowing them to make you mad.

Some of you have been hurt in the past — all of us have been hurt in the past — but some of you are continuing to allow people from your past to hurt you in the present even they may no longer be in your life! Let it go! Paul says, Get rid of it! Get rid of bitterness.

Your past is past. It cannot hurt you any more unless you allow it. Let go of your grudges.

Job 5:2 (Good News) “To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.” It doesn’t help, it only hurts.

Who are you holding a grudge against? Former girlfriend? Former spouse? An employer? A parent? A brother/sister? A teacher who hurt you when you were in school? Many adults are still fighting their parents unconsciously. They say, “I was unloved… I was ignored… I was abused verbally… I was abused physically… I was intimidated… manipulated…” You felt all that hurt growing up in your childhood so you moved away, but you kept the hurt. It went with you when you moved. Now, for some of you, that person who has hurt you in the past may have even died. But you’re still holding on to the hurt. You need to let go of your grudges. You will never be the family member, church member, or leader that God designed you to be until you can let go of your past and serve and love the people who are in your life today.

Job 18:4 tells us, “You are only hurting yourself with your anger.” To make matters worse, some of you have allowed all of this anger and hurt to pile up from your past and since that person is not around anymore, you take it out on your husband or your wife or your children. That’s not fair! You’ve got to let go of your grudges. If you want to get on with your life there’s only one alternative, forgive everybody else just as God has forgiven you. You’re forgiven so be forgiving. For your own sake give up your grudges. Live in today and do not allow the past to control you.

Join me for the next two months as I continue this discussion on how we can all learn to let go of our past.

Rick Warren is the Founding Pastor of Saddleback Church and author of internationally best-selling books such as The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church.

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