Leadership Lifter: Letting Go of the Past – Part 2

by Rick Warren

Last month I started a three-part series on how to let go of the past and move into the future. We looked at the first thing one must do to let go of the past – I must give up my grudges. This month we will look at the second thing you must do to disengage from an unhealthy focus on past hurts.

2. I MUST GIVE UP MY GRIEF 

Sorrow is a normal part of life. Everybody eventually experiences loss. Many of you have had losses in the last year. And it hurts. And grieving is a natural part of life. There’s nothing wrong with mourning. The Bible says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The Bible says it’s OK to weep and grieve; it’s a part of life.

But there’s a big difference between mourning and moaning. Moaning is self-pity — “poor me!” When you moan you resign from life. “I quit! I’ll never be happy again! I’ve lost it all!” You haven’t lost it all. You’re still here. A lot of people build a wall around themselves and they impose themselves in isolation and say, “I’m never again going to allow anybody to get close to me because I might get hurt again. They get close to me and I lose them. So I’ll build a wall and wall out the world. And I’ll wall myself in.” Self-inflicted isolation.

Pain is a part of life. Everybody has hurts and heartaches. We’ve all experienced them in life. Do not allow your pain to make you a prisoner of that pain. You’ve got to not only let go of your grudges, you’ve got to learn to let go of your grief so you can have good relationships today.

How do I let go of grief? There’s a story in 2 Samuel 12 about David. It’s a beautiful story because it tells us how to let go of grief. David had an illegitimate child by Bathsheba. He took another man’s wife and had her husband killed. It was a sin. She became pregnant and bore a son and the son became very, very sick. David, it says, laid himself out on the ground and prayed for days, “God, save this child! Spare the child!” He fasted and prayed and wept. And the child died. We don’t always get everything we pray for. 2 Sam. 12:16 & 18 tells us, “David pleaded with God for the child and he fasted and he went into his house and he spent nights lying on the ground. But on the seventh day the child died.”

David did three things when the child died. It is the same three things you need to do to let go of grief.

1. Accept what cannot be changed.

That’s the first thing David did. He accepted what could not be changed. 2 Sam. 12:22, “Then David got up from the ground. He said `While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, but now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back to life?'” No. David said, while there was a chance I prayed and wept but now he’s dead. And I’ve got to get on with life. He accepted what could not be changed.

Many of you are in pain now from events that happened years and years ago. The key to your piece of mind is in one word — acceptance. Acceptance of God’s will in your life. God does not have a Plan B for your life! There is only Plan A. God is still on His throne and God is still in control and you need to accept what cannot be changed. Let it go! Let go of your grief. It relieves so much pain.

2. Play it down and Pray it up.

Your grief — you play it down and pray it up. You don’t exaggerate it — “The world has ended!” The world has not ended. You’re heartbroken but the world has not ended. You don’t exaggerate it, you dedicate it. You play it down and you pray it up.

Notice what David did: The child had died and it says, “After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped.” What did David do with his grief? He went to church. And he worshipped. Those of you whose hearts are breaking right now, focus on God.

Isaiah 6 says, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord.” He got his eyes off the circumstance and on the One who was greater than the circumstance.

I’m not lessening the significance of your loss but I am saying, for your own sake, you must accept what cannot be changed and you must play it down and pray it up. That person in your life is not coming back.

3. Focus on what’s left not what’s lost.

It says, “Then David comforted his wife Bathsheba, and he went to her and lay with her. She gave birth to a son, and they named him Solomon.” He still had friends, family, loved ones. And he looked at what he had left, not what he had lost.

You say, “I don’t have much left!” You do, too! You have your life! You have a church full of people who will pray for you and care for you and love you if you make your needs known. You have a lot more than you’re looking at. But you’ve got to give up your grief.

Self-pity is much more damaging to your life than any tragedy you’ll ever face because it perpetuates the pain long after the pain should be manageable. Remember the movie, Ordinary People? A family was destroyed from within because they did not learn how to deal with the grief. They didn’t know how to let it go. Some of you are still holding on to grudges from the past and some of you are still holding on to grief from the past and you’re taking it out on relationships in the present and that is not fair to yourself or to them! You’ve got to let it go.

Join me next month as I look at the final step required in letting go of the past.

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

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