Memories: Finding Meaning in the Past


They can be a tricky thing. The good ones can be hard to remember, and the bad ones can be hard to forget.

We all have these recollections. They begin storing up in our minds from as early as age 2. Sometimes, the scent of a candle, the tapping of a song, or the smell of a summer breeze will bring on nostalgia that take us to a memory that makes us feel warm and happy.

Other times, those same triggers can remind us of things we wish we hadn’t done, things we’d be ashamed for other people to know about, or things that we’ve tried to run from and desperately to forget.

The past reveals so much about who we are and why we became that way. It’s narrative can remind us of both the beautiful and the painful. It can bring us immense joy, or intense pain.

I used to wonder why I had such a long list of painful memories—some of them went back to my life before grade school and affected me well into my 30’s—and why was there such a short list of joys? What had I done to deserve such a pain filled childhood?

In 2015, I took a journey through, “Making Peace with Your Past,” a study that offers practical, biblically-based guidance that led me to identify, understand, and come to terms with the feelings and struggles of growing up in a dysfunctional family.

The study challenged me to look at my family of origin and how dysfunction and childhood trauma shaped who I had become. Sure, there were people inside our immediate family circle that bore some accountability for their actions and how those actions affected me. But as I progressed into my teens, twenties, and thirties, no one hurt me nearly as much as I hurt myself.

Through this well written, deeply personal study, I began to understand how I became who I was and why I did the things I did. Memories that I often tried (and failed) to forget were brought from the darkness into the light. I discovered lies that I had believed as early as 4 years old (you deserved it, you’re worthless, you can’t do anything right) and applied the truth about who God says I am, who He calls me to be, and how He makes “all things work together,” even through pain and suffering. My inner whisperings were replaced with loving encouragement (you’re a survivor not a victim, I love you, you can do all things through Christ). With the help of the Holy Spirit, Gods Word, a caring facilitator and a compassionate support group, I was able to experience healing and freedom for the first time in nearly 4 decades.

God has helped me view my past as something more than a part of me to be amputated, ashamed of, or hidden under a bush.

My past, albeit a painful and imperfect one, has meaning and purpose. Nothing helped me see that more clearly than the Bible. Here is the story of a crippled man’s healing after 38 years.

“Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.”

John 5:8-9

Take up thy bed. It’s not an overly profound command, but I saw a ton of meaning in those few words.

This man had been unable to walk for 38 years. Imagine laying in a bed for 38 days, let alone 38 years. I typically change our sheets once a week, and we’ve had a new mattress no less than 4 times in the last 25 years. This poor man’s bed had to be soiled and … well, disgusting. Surely he didn’t want to take his mat (and the past that it represented) into his new life, on his new legs!

Jesus’s instruction to the man who couldn’t walk made me l think about the different times in my life that I have wanted to run away from my painful experiences — to leave my “soiled” memories in the past and move on. The Lord healed this man and instructed him to pick up his mat and walk; To take his healing and his past with him. He was now complete.

Joseph is recorded in Genesis 50:20 as saying to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God used it for good.” … What Satan meant for evil, God used for good. His life was hard, but nothing was wasted.

In God’s hands, intended evil becomes eventual good.

Joseph tied himself to the pillar of this promise and held on for dear life. Nothing in his story glosses over the presence of evil. Quite the contrary. Bloodstains and tearstains are everywhere. Joseph’s heart was rubbed raw against the rocks of disloyalty and miscarried justice. Yet time and time again God redeemed the pain.

(Focus on the Family)

The torn robe became a royal one.

The pit became a palace.

The broken family grew old together.

The very acts intended to destroy God’s servant turned out to strengthen him.

I was once crippled. Yes, God healed me, and yes, I still have my “bed.” It reminds me of where I’ve been and how grateful I am for His healing. Here are a few other truths that set me free:

First, and most important, I could not heal myself.

Healing of every kind comes from Jesus. No matter the method, He is the only one who can heal our painful memories.

My past does not define me. This is such an important truth to grasp. I’m not the sum of my past hurts, hang-ups, or habits. The past shaped me, but ultimately, I am who God says I am.

Memories remind us where we’ve been, but the hard ones don’t have to determine where we are going.

God never wastes our pain – only we do that. God brings purpose to our pain when we invite Him in. So what about all those memories?

God is in control of our future. With hands and hearts wide open, He can bring meaning and purpose to memories, both good and hard.

Isaiah 61:3, “… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Romans 12:2

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Philippians 4:13

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

1 Peter 2:9

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Jeremiah 29:11

I don’t wonder anymore why I experienced so much trauma and pain as a child. God takes was was intended for evil and uses it for good. He has healed me and allowed where I’ve been to help me with where I am going, and He’s allowed me to help others along the way. I have new memories, ones with my husband, our children, our grandchildren, and many family and friends that bring me great joy. God is my healer, my restorer, my deliverer, and my redeemer.

How have you seen God use what was intended for evil in your own life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

3 Replies to “Memories: Finding Meaning in the Past”

  1. Marlene Backert says:

    This self reflection of a painful season of life allows all of us to connect our own season of pain with yours. Having grown up with an alcoholic father, I can relate to your pain from childhood. Although our source of hurts may be from different sources, ultimately, our source of healing came from the same Heavenly Father. That good, good Heavenly Father told me He would use my past for His purposes, and He has done just that. He is using yours as well! Thank you, Danielle! It’s a joy to watch you continue to share your wisdom with others.

  2. God has not wasted your pain, Amy! He has shaped you into a Proverbs 31 women, and I am thankful for your example and your friendship!

  3. Amy Gilbert says:

    Well said. I come from a broken home as well. As young as 4 years old. So much of that trauma Satan meant for my destruction and strongholds. But God…but God has used all of it for His glory and surely my good. Just like you, my story isn’t perfect. Much of my childhood would have received high ratings as a soap opera or reality show. The pain can still be real even as a 44 year old woman, but I’m thankful God redeemed me as an 18 year old girl and began to mold me and shape me into what He desired. Im thankful for the journey.

Your comments are a blessing to me. I receive each one with gratitude.