A few weeks ago my parents moved from the house I grew up in to a smaller apartment in New York. And through the bustle of a family Christmas amid boxes and paper plates I was given several boxes full of my old things to look through and keep/throw away. The boxes were an accumulation of mementos dating back from before I can remember. As I read the yearbook notes and birthday cards and as I looked through all the old pictures I was filled with conflicting emotions as I relived what seemed to be my entire life.

I was specifically struck by how much my past still simmers beneath my consciousness, so easily stirred by a single photograph.

While I had many favorable memories stored in all those boxes, I also had many more memories that I wished could be left behind. Memories that I know I still carry with me and affect how I live today. The specter of past sorrows, embarrassments, and fears still echo today. Or as the Allman Brothers say, “What’s done is done, … and now I’m runnin’ from a man with a gun”

It seems we always carry our pasts with us. In psychologist Clotaire Rapaille’s book, The Culture Code, he postulates that people make their present decisions strictly based upon their past experiences. He says, “The combination of the experience and its accompanying emotion create something known widely (and coined as such by Konrad Lorenz) as an imprint. Once an imprint occurs, it strongly conditions our thought processes and shapes our future actions. Each imprint helps make us more of who we are. The combination of these imprints defines us.”

Said another way, while each new day seems to offer an infinite number of possibilities, even the possibilities themselves are limited by past decisions and experiences. One’s career, family, medical history, etc. all influence the number and amount of possibilities available. Even worse, the very decisions that I make now are, according to Rapaille, influenced by a past that is ever-present with me. My genetic make-up, social conditioning, family history all seem to dictate my eventual course of action. Though I wish I could simply “put the past away” (Third Eye Blind), I am never truly free from my past – I am bound by it!

One may (and should) ask: is it possible for one to be rid of their past and live in freedom? It is really possible to begin again? Can the “old man” die and be reborn as a genuine new creation?

This radical freedom from the past is only available by the grace of God through the forgiveness of sin. In faith the past and its folly is taken away as far as the East is from the West. When I’m loved as if that history never happened, then that past is gone. When I’m loved in the midst of the brokenness of the past, then I am given true freedom.