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Completing Your Past
Friday, June 28, 2024 by Dr James H Dotson Jr

I was born into an intact, Christian family with both my biological father and biological mother present. But life was challenging for our family from the beginning. 

We were poor, and my father was not a good provider. Dad also had a terrible temper, which included lots of yelling and sometimes hitting. He was unpredictable. He was also a womanizer and unfaithful to my mother.

Later, Dad and Mom were separated and then divorced. He was gone before I was a teenager. 

Until my early/mid–20’s, I lived as if my father’s absence had no impact on me. I was making my way through school, going to church, working, playing, and just living what I thought was a “normal” life. 

But then, I began realizing how my “backstory” was affecting me. 

Impact of My Father’s Absence

I never really had a healthy, long-term relationship with my biological father—I missed out on having a loving bond with him.

And I became really sad as I watched my beloved late mother struggle to raise our family as a single mom. By the time of her death, she had raised four generations of us.

I came to a point where I hated my father because of how he treated my mom and us and because of how he lived—different at home than how he was at church. I was cordial with him, but there was not much respect or genuine love.

But as time passed and I grew into my teenage and young adult years, I realized that I was exhibiting some of the same characteristics that my Father displayed when he was still living with us. It was like he modeled it and I adopted it. 

And I realized that I had a distorted view of marriage and family, and I had no real model from my dad of what being a loving husband and father looked like.

What’s the Point?

So, why am I telling you all this?

The key point here is that your backstory—the people, the places, the events, and the experiences of your past, both the good and the bad—can affect you today and into your future.

And more to the point is this. Good mental health includes completing your past—unpacking the unwanted emotional baggage you still carry around with you, finding healing for the wounds you experienced, processing the regrets from your past, and attending to unfinished business. 

Completing Your Past

Am I suggesting that you need to live in the past? No! That will only keep you from living well in the present.

Am I suggesting that you obsess over your past? Again, no! Living well in the present requires focusing on the present.

What I’m suggesting is that living well in the present will sometimes require bringing some closure to some aspects of your past so you can be more fully present in the here and now.

What Does That Look Like?

Let me share three principles for living that have helped and continue to help me complete my past.

First, learn, grow, and change. 

  • Adopt the mindset of a lifelong learner—ever be on the alert for opportunities to learn, grow and change.
  • Part of my journey included going to a Father Wound therapy group to deal with the impact of that part of my past.
  • And I regularly read, listen, study, and pray to learn about the stuff in my life that still needs attention, both from my past and right now in the day–to–day of my present life. 
  • Don’t be passive about the unwanted baggage of your life that you’re still lugging around with you, especially the wounds you’ve experienced, the regrets you have, and the unfinished business from your past. Rather, proactively set aside time to unpack that unwanted baggage—healing from your wounds, working through your regrets, and completing the unfinished business of your past—with a focus on learning, growing, and changing.
  • Be intentional and seek help when you need it.

Second, adopt a forward vision for living. 

  • Refuse to allow bad experiences from your past to define your identity.
  • While I was sometimes told growing up that “You’re just like your father!”, I did not accept that as my identity—who I am.
  • Rather, I sought professional help to deal with my anger and other patterns of thinking/behaving that mirrored how my father lived. 
  • Don’t accept or settle into an identity deriving from the bad experiences of your past. Rather, affirm yourself as a Prince or Princess of the King of Kings—the God of Heaven who adopted us as his children and heirs to his Kingdom. And look forward to the transformation promised to all who are in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and seek also to experience the abundant life Jesus came to give you (John 10:10).  

Third, be in community.

  • One of the most important things I’ve learned is don’t go it alone.
  • I have three brothers who are my prayer partners. They know my whole story. We meet weekly. We praise together. We pray together. We study together. We support each other and hold each other accountable. And we advise and counsel each other—learning from each other and helping each other on the specifics of our individual lives. And, I’m also part of several Text Chat groups where we share updates, encourage and pray for each other, and celebrate with each other.
  • Proverbs 27:17 (NLT) reads: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Cultivate these kinds of healthy friendships on your journey through life.
  • And become part of a healthy community. It doesn’t have to be huge, just large enough so all can both give and receive loving support and enjoy the fellowship of one another.

Call to Action

“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13–14, NLT

Complete your past.

So that you may live more fully in the present.

While, looking forward to God’s future for you.

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