Even if you are not a Bible-believing, God-fearing Christ follower, the apostle Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian Church is wise council for every person in every generation: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal…

We occasionally like to think about the “good ol’ days,” and contemplate our cherished memories of the past. My mind dwells on the good things of those days, when life was simpler — partly because I was too young to dwell on social concerns and responsibilities beyond my own little corner of the world.

Of course, looking backwards also dredges up some unpleasant memories of pain, injustice, and even shame or embarrassment over some of my own behaviors. I find a way to rationalize most of my unfortunate actions, but the scars of pain inflicted by others are quite visible, even though the wounds have healed.

Paul’s advice is to learn from the past, but refuse to live there; refuse to go back there to again wallow in the emotional sufferings. No matter how much we think about it, or how deeply we experience those emotions again, the past will never change. The best option is to let it go.

Holding on to what was deters us from moving on to what can be. Paul’s process is to learn from the past, let it go, and press on toward what is ahead. That he “strains” toward what is ahead indicates that he puts all of his energy and focus on what can be, rather than wasting verve and attention on what has already been.

We can choose to be bitter, or we can choose to be better; part of the problem, or part of the solution. Bitterness builds resentment, frustration, anger, and can even lead to irrational feelings and behaviors. The other path, however, opens the door to growth, improvement, and victory. Personally, I refuse to be enslaved by the past; I prefer the freedom of discovering contentment and peace in my own soul.

Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.