How to Overcome Your Past and Use it for Good

Have you ever felt disqualified or unworthy because of your past?

Maybe you fear judgment. Maybe you wonder if anyone will take you seriously or trust you. Maybe shame holds you back. Or, maybe you question how God could possibly use you after what you’ve done.

Friend, if that’s you. If you can resonate, please know I once felt all of the above.

I once questioned how I could ever escape my past. Ever feel qualified and worthy to lead or encourage or lean into what my past taught me in a way that could help others.

I felt stuck.

That is, until I learned that I was limiting God’s grace. By feeling disqualified, unworthy, fearful, shameful, and doubtful, I was—in actuality—believing that God’s grace wasn’t big enough to cover my past.

What a lie!

That was the first step of freedom for me, and I hope it is for you, too.

Sharing your story

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I am passionate about sharing my story and encouraging others to do the same.

Believing the truth that God’s grace is greater than my past truly was just the first step. Next, I felt challenged to talk about my past—not in a shameful or self-gratifying way, but in a way that glorified God.

It wasn’t easy. All the negative, doubtful feelings surfaced over and over again. But I shoved them away and listened to God.

And you know what?

Sharing my story got easier over time.

Notice I didn’t say OVERNIGHT.

Tips on how to share your past

If sharing your past is a struggle, I encourage you to start small. Tell a trusted friend or family member who doesn’t know. Tell a few more people one-on-one as the opportunities arise.

Next, if you have an opportunity, share your story with a small group of people. Maybe that looks like a church small group, or at a family gathering. Maybe on a girls’ (or guys’) night out.

I think it’s important to note here that you don’t need to force it. You don’t have to insert your past story into the conversation where it doesn’t make sense. Again, if you have an opportunity, don’t let fear hold you back.

Asking for forgiveness

Of course, this could all look a bit different if part of sharing your past includes asking anyone to forgive you. Forgiveness is a topic all its own. While I won’t go too deep into it here, I will say that asking for forgiveness will likely require more intention on the timing (sooner vs. later) and the method of sharing (in-person vs. phone)—especially if it’s hindering a relationship.

I’ll also add that if someone refuses to forgive you for your past mistakes, you can still move on!

If you are truly sincere in your apology, your forgiveness (in God’s eyes) is not tied to whether or not another human being forgives you. Remember that.

Using your past for good

Everything you’ve read so far, I’ve experienced. It took me years to fully accept the grace of God, restore broken relationships, and accept that some are not likely to ever be restored.

But, for all that progress, the devil (aka. the enemy) still attacks me. He doesn’t want me to continue to share my story and help others. Here’s one major fact to remember about the enemy, though. He attacks hardest when he feels threatened. Clearly, I’m doing something right!

The most recent time I felt attacked, I was driving from Tennessee to Florida. Alone with my thoughts.

My mind wandered to the first time I ever drove to Florida. A time when I literally ran from God and everything in my life—which I share as part of my story. I reflected on how much my life changed since then and praised God for the blessing of driving to Florida now vs. my rebellious decisions that led to my first trip, all those years ago.

But, as I reflected, I felt the doubts creep in…

You haven’t shared literally ALL of the details of your story with everyone. If people knew literally EVERYTHING you’ve ever done wrong in your past, they would think of you differently. Do you really believe you can ever fully overcome your past mistakes?

Dang, devil. It was a vicious attack!

Have you ever felt that way? That no one truly knows EVERY dark thought you’ve ever had. Every bad decision. Every  private conversation… and if they did, you’d lose some of their respect?

Trust me. You are not alone in believing those lies. Yes, lies.

The truth is, the devil delights in making us feel that way. DELIGHTS. His chief ambition is to make us feel insecure, ashamed, isolated, and ultimately ineffective.

In the car—feeling this attack—I talked to God.

The Apostle Paul

After a while, He guided my thoughts to the Apostle Paul in the Bible, and I thought about all that Paul had done in his past—before he was an Apostle. Before God changed his name from Saul to Paul. Saul was a brutal killer of Christians; a religious leader with a holier-than-thou attitude because he thought he knew everything about the scriptures. Saul didn’t want anything to do with Jesus.

That is, till God literally stopped him on the Damascus Road and he became a true believer. (Read that story in Acts 9 here.)

From that point on, Saul dedicated his life to serving God. Sharing the good news of the Gospel. And doing it despite the risk. He even changed his name to Paul as an outward way of showing his spiritual transformation.

Yet, many followers of Christ at that time were initially skeptical. What if he was faking and still wanted to kill them?

And on the other end of the spectrum, the Jews saw him as a traitor and wanted to kill him. He couldn’t win. Yet, he persevered—enduring judgment, capture, imprisonment, and eventually death for telling the known world about Christ.

Imagine if Paul let any part of his past—and fear of judgment—keep him from serving God. He certainly would not have written about half of the books in the New Testament. But, more than that, he would not have SAVED countless lives for eternity.

As I thought about Paul, this thought struck me: Paul let his past keep him HUMBLE, not INEFFECTIVE.

Let’s look at Philippians 3, where Paul says:

13 You have heard about my past life in the Jewish religion. I persecuted the church of God very much. I tried to destroy his people. 14 I was becoming a leader in the Jewish religion. I did better than most other Jews my own age. I tried harder than anyone else to follow the traditions we got from our ancestors. 15 But God had special plans for me even before I was born. So he chose me through his grace.

Galatians 1: 13-15 (ERV)

In this passage, Paul shares about his past as a successful religious leader who persecuted Christians—not to defend what he did or brag, but to show that he did not deserve to be used by God. Yet, God “chose [him] through his grace.”

Acknowledging God’s grace in your life is humility, because grace means God gave you something you don’t deserve.

Paul knew he didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. On his own, he wasn’t worthy or qualified. In fact, he was probably the least likely candidate to spread God’s Word. But God chose him. God forgave him. Qualified him. Called him worthy. Regardless of Paul’s past.

All Paul had to do was say YES — and he didn’t let his past stand in the way of that YES.

Experiencing Doubt

Friend, God didn’t just do that for Paul. He extends that to you, too!

Don’t let the doubt discourage you. Don’t let the enemy win when he attacks and lies to you.

I used to think that doubt equaled failure because it felt like a backwards step in my faith. But here’s the deal. Lots of people referenced in the Bible doubted, and God didn’t consider them failures.

Let’s look at Moses in Exodus chapters 3 and 4. If you’re not familiar with the story, God appears to Moses as a fire in a bush, and tells Moses that he is the chosen one to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, where they were enslaved.

But Moses had a past. It’s a long story, but he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter and didn’t suffer like his fellow Hebrews. Even when he defended them by murdering an Egyptian who beat one of his own people, they still would not accept him. So, he ran away.

So, when God asked him to go BACK to his people and save them, you can bet Moses had some doubts. Read all his excuses in Exodus 3 -4. Ultimately, though, he said YES.

And even after all that doubting, God made sure his name was mentioned in Hebrews 11 (aka. the “Hall of Faith”). This is the chapter in the Bible where you’ll find some of the most faithful people mentioned all in one place. If doubts disqualified faith, Moses wouldn’t be there. Dare I say, likely none of the names would be there!

It’s okay to doubt. It’s not okay to let that doubt hold you back.

Let your past have a purpose

Here is my challenge to you—and an ongoing challenge to myself.

Anytime you feel ashamed or doubt your worthiness or ability to influence this world for good because of ANY part of your past, remember this…

Your unique story—with all its wrong turns, marks missed, and parts you’d rather hide—can be used for good, to help those who currently struggle with the same issues. Imagine helping others feel less alone and more hopeful to persevere and overcome!

Will you be judged by some? Possibly. In this life, we’ll all face judgment at some point or another.

Will it be challenging? Facing fears usually is!

But, the alternative is staying stuck in your past and letting it have power over your present and your future.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to live.

So, let your past keep you humble and focused on your need of God. But never, ever, ever let it make you ineffective in this life.

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