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Editor’s Note: President of the FMS Board of Directors Fr. Tom Washburn, OFM, reflects on the temptation to become so fixated and caught up in the past that we lose sight of the present and cannot move forward in our lives. 

Every now and then, you come across a quotation, a thought, or a statement that somehow sums things up in a way that speaks to your heart but perhaps had never been able to articulate well. Sometimes these words can help to open you to a new perspective that you hadn’t considered before and one that leads to tremendous freedom in your life.

For me, those words were these: “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past will be different and making a choice for happiness today.” It is a quotation that that, believe it or not, I heard on an Oprah Winfrey show many years ago. It is profoundly simple and yet so very powerful.

At the time, I was ministering as a chaplain at a social service agency in Boston whose mission was to provide residential treatment for people recovering from addiction who also had contracted HIV. This was the mid-1990s and so the HIV crisis was still very real and very deadly. One of the main aspects of my role was to facilitate small groups on the topic of finding their Higher Power (to use the language of recovery) and another group on Letting Go.

Very often, when coming to terms with their addiction and trying to understand its origins and triggers, the conversations would inevitably focus on past hurts, difficult moments in life, and relationships with parents or other important people that had not gone the way they had hoped. And, when we would introduce this quote into the conversation, it truly had the ability to be transformative.

One of the things that happens too often in life for all of us is that we allow ourselves to live somewhere else, really to be held captive somewhere else – and that “somewhere” is really some “time” else. We allow the past to hold us, as though somehow our extreme focus on those past events will change them.

Of course, when we stop to think about this rationally, we know it isn’t true, that it can’t ever be true. The past is the past. As much as we would have liked it to be different, by its nature, it cannot be. And, when we move away from the fascination with what was, it can be a moment that offers us the incredible freedom to live in the here and now. It offers us the opportunity to make choices for happiness today in our lives and in our relationships with others and with God.

The past can never be any different than it was. It has been written in stone. By letting go of our fascination with it, we can forgive ourselves, we can forgive those who wronged us, we can let go of our mistakes or those of others, and we can move into a whole new, healthy, holy and happy future. Make that choice for happiness and holiness today.

Reflection questions:

  • To what degree am I living in past wounds, situations, or relationships that keep me from moving forward?
  • What concrete steps can I take to let go and live in today?

Tom Head Shot

Fr. Tom Washburn, OFM, is a member of the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception. He has served as Executive Secretary of the Franciscan Provincial Ministers Conference for the last 10 years. He is currently the President of the Board of Directors of Franciscan Mission Service and has served on the board since 2013.

Featured image: adaptation of photo by Pixabay user Bonnybbx – labeled for reuse