My friend Julie had a similar epiphany with her hair. She had worn the same style through most of her adult years, although now she had to cover the gray and work a bit harder to achieve the “natural” look. One day, she walked in to her hair salon and said, “Cut it.” She was not only referring to her hair, but also to her ties to the past. She told me that she had looked at her family Christmas pictures and noticed how much everyone else in the family changed, yet she seemed to stay the same — with a few more wrinkles but always the same hairstyle.

It suddenly struck her that she was trying to hold on to “the Julie of Christmas past.” She knew exactly how to style the haircut she had and knew that it was still flattering, even after all these years. But there was something about it that was too familiar. Julie’s new, natural cut is short, spunky, and gray.  It suits her and will certainly stand out in this year’s picture. For her, it is symbolic of redefining herself not as someone clinging to the past, but as someone who is fully invested in the present and future.

Leaving good things behind can be hard. But leaving the pain of the past can be far more challenging. To some degree, we all have places in our hearts where the past is still gripping us. The pain of a loss can still bring tears, and the memory of betrayal can tighten our stomachs. We can replay scenes and rewind words over and over again.

The amount of time and energy we spend on the past robs us of time, space, and energy for the future. If you get nothing else out of this book, please, please take this warning seriously. You must let go of your past. It won’t be easy. You may need help. But wiping the slate clean may be the most important work of this time in your life. If you hold on to past pain, you may spend the rest of your life as a bitter or defeated person. God will only be able to work in a small part of your soul because it will already be full of scar tissue.

The Slivers Beneath the Skin

One day, my Bible study group was listening to a sermon by pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. The sermon was on the topic of envy. At first,  I couldn’t really think of anyone I envied to the point of sin; nevertheless, I asked God to show me if there was something lurking in a corner of my heart that I was missing.

The name that came to mind was shocking. I couldn’t even imagine why I had thought of her. She was a former business associate I had never particularly liked or admired. She seemed to me to have an overblown ego and poor work habits. But as I thought of her, I realized that she had gained the approval of someone I did admire. And there it was: envy. I resented this woman because, in my opinion, she had not “earned” the approval she received. And I resented our boss for not seeing the situation clearly.

That’s when I began to get at the root of a deep problem in my life. I was an achiever who often tried to accomplish something in order to win approval. It was a characteristic that had driven me to achieve good grades, work hard for promotions, and even write articles that would win awards. As much as I pretended to be independent and unmoved by awards or honors, I realized how deeply I needed the approval of people I admired and how deeply I hurt when I was overlooked. And if someone received what I considered undeserved approval, I often reacted with resentment.

Getting to the Truth

I wrote down this discovery in my journal and began to ask God to purge me of envy, the cancer that had probably colored more relationships than I knew. A few days later, I was praying when the name of a friend came to mind. I hadn’t thought of her for years, partially because even remembering her name brought pain. We had been very close, like sisters. I had been willing to do anything for her and had time and time again gone out of my way to support her, encourage her, and help her through tough times.