In a recent post, I wrote about the need to move on from places where we may have been stuck. However, I afterwards realized that it simply may not be that easy for some. Re-reading the account of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah, and the accounts of Abraham’s epic failure with Hagar in Gen 16, Judah’s failure with his daughter-in-law Tamar in Gen 38, and Peter’s denial of Jesus in Mk 14: 66-72, I was struck by the thought that these were people who sincerely loved God, yet failed terribly in their personal lives at some point. And some of them, like Abram, were stuck in that place of failure for years (13 years in Abram’s case).
So I began to ask myself: how do we move on after a personal/epic failure? What do we do with the effects of our sin in our lives and the lives of others? And how do we deal with the guilt that invariably accompanies such actions? How do we even justify moving on?
Reasons Why we Don’t Move On
I think we sometimes fail or refuse to move on from a place of failure or loss because we truly don’t know how to. Sometimes we feel we don’t deserve to and may believe that we should pay for what we’ve done, or failed to do. We can remain stuck because of an attitude of learned helplessness such as we see displayed by the paralytic in John 5, whom Jesus asked if he really wished to get well. We can get stuck through self-pity (i.e. when we keep trying to figure out “why me”), or by continuing to blame others for our predicament. Or because we keep trying to fix things (or people) who can’t (or won’t) be fixed by us. Finally, we may fail to move on because others make us feel like we deserve what is happening to us, and that, perhaps we should continue to pay for our sin, like Shimei, Saul’s relative, who cursed at David as he fled from Absalom in 2 Sam 15: 5-8.
Steps to Moving On
I think the first step is to take responsibility and own our own part in being where we are. This may be difficult to accept, but in almost all instances, there is some aspect of our situation that we can take responsibility for or that we can take action on. This frees us from self-pity and actually empowers us. This is what David did in Psalm 51. He didn’t attempt to gloss over his actions, but took full accountability. And it is interesting to note God’s response: in no place following do we see the Lord even mention or make a reference to this again, in dealing with David henceforth. Once His divine judgment was pronounced, and David repented, He moved right on. We see the same in the Lord’s dealing with Abraham in Gen 17 and with Peter in John 21. The Lord never mentioned their failures again afterwards; it was as though they had never happened. It seems that when the Lord forgives, He deals with us as though we had never sinned, although we may experience the natural consequences of those actions (Gal 6: 7). And we must learn to do the same.
Another step is to make a decision to move on. In 2 Kings 7:5 we read the account of 4 lepers who were stuck in a bad place. Sitting in the shadow of the city gates, neither in the city nor exactly outside the city they were where many of us are at some point in our lives: afraid to stay, but just as afraid to move on. We are made privy to the reasoning that led to their decision to move on forward: they reasoned that possible death at the hands of their enemies was preferable to certain death from remaining where they were. And I believe that that is a major factor in moving on: it requires a decision – sometimes born of desperation – to do so. We read the same in the account of the chronically-ill man in John 5: 6. Jesus asked him what on the surface seemed like an odd question to ask a paralytic: “Are you really in earnest about getting well (AMP)?” implying that he had a choice, and could act on that choice. When he affirmed his desire and decision, God’s grace kicked in to help him do so.
Can I Forgive Myself and Others?
Moving on almost always involves forgiving oneself and others, a life skill that Jesus taught, since it is impossible to live without making some mistakes or experiencing hurt from others’ actions (Matt 5:38-48). I believe that this is more a mindset that makes allowance for one’ own and others’ faults and is determined to keep moving in spite of it than anything else (Gal 6: 1-5, MSG, Phil 3: 13, Col 3:13). Other steps that we can take to help us move on include offering a sincere apology accompanied by a good-faith effort to mend what can be mended. However, it is important to recognize that not all consequences can be mended. David ultimately lost 4 sons as a consequence of his sin, and the conflict between Abraham’s descendants persists till today. Yet we must be willing to move on in spite of that.
Step by Step.
Deuteronomy 2 and Gen 17: 1 provide other keys to moving on. In Genesis 17:1, the Lord appears to Abram after 13 years of silence following the events with Hagar and tells him to begin walking again. Then He gave him a single instruction on what next to do. In Deuteronomy 2, we are shown how God moved the Israelites on forward after they had been stuck a long time in the hills. He led them forward in small, incremental steps. He didn’t tell them everything all at once but gave them one small, actionable instruction at a time. And as they obeyed and took that step, He gave them further guidance. This is consistent with His promise in Exodus 23: 27, where he stated that we are delivered (or brought into God’s promises for us) little by little, instruction by instruction, one step at a time.
Don’t Get Distracted
It is also interesting to note what he told them not to do. In Deut 2: 5, 9 and 19 the Lord warned the Israelites not to become entangled in unnecessary conflicts or distractions, but to save their strength for the later battles that would really matter, with the Amorites. They were to avoid entanglements that were not germane to their purpose or survival and continue moving on towards His real purpose for their lives. This is instructive for us today. There are conflicts, relationships, obligations, and even pastimes that simply have no bearing upon what God wants for us. There may be people in our lives that are intent on resuming/continuing a quarrel that is long past, like Shimei in 2 Sam 15. Once we realize this, we need to take the necessary steps to avoid or get out of those situations, like David did. He simply ignored Shimei and kept going. One caveat in this is that some relationships (like marriage) even though God-ordained, may go through a rough patch but are worth fighting for. However we must often make decisions about what other things are a waste of our precious time and energies, which are best saved up and applied to God’s purposes for us. Sometimes this requires reducing the number of commitments we make or saying “no” to even good things, for a season, while we focus our energies on the things that God really has ordained for us to do.
My Personal Story:
I do not write this from some academic or moralistic viewpoint. I have made my own share of mistakes and have my own share of regrets. Like many driven individuals, I have too often prioritized my career over my family. For many years, I was laser-focused on my career and in the process, made choices that robbed my family of my time and attention. And so, as I read David’s story, I realized that, even though I may not have committed murder or adultery, I am just as guilty of hurting others – often those whom I love the most – by my actions. With that realization has come tremendous guilt and regret, which I am still working through as I write this. I realize that I will never get back the time with my kids that I have missed and mourn that lost opportunity. However, I choose to make the most of the rest of their childhood. I have apologized to my wife and choose to accept her (and God’s) forgiveness for my actions. Far more difficult, I choose to forgive myself, recognizing that that guilt serves no useful purpose other than to keep the focus on me. I choose to move on and to become a better husband and father in the future. I have reworked my schedule, said “no” to some things at work (and continue to do so), and have made other changes that enable me to be present, involved and invested daily. Most importantly, I trust God to work my mistakes out for good.
Will you do the same?