All of us have some painful memories. The person who says he has no regrets is either lying or has not lived long enough in this world to make any mistakes. So the question is: what are we to do with the memories that bring us pain when we they resurface in our minds?
Perhaps a clarification is in order. In this post I am not thinking about the memories of things other people have done to us. Those memories can be excruciating, but whatever we may have suffered at the hands of others, of much more concern should be the sins that we ourselves have committed. How should we think about these things?
I expect very few of us can ponder this subject without thinking of our brother Paul in the New Testament. Forgiven by God's grace and given a clean slate, Paul still had to live the rest of his life with the memory of having persecuted the Lord's church while he was still an unbeliever. His attitude, however, is admirable and worthy of our imitation. "For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me" (1 Corinthians 15:9,10).
No self-pity or worldly sorrow. Paul's memories were painful, but his sorrow shows no sign of self-centeredness or despair.
Gratitude for grace. Forgiven, Paul was determined that God's grace would not be wasted on him. He would respond rightly to grace.
Humility. If Paul was ever tempted to be cocky, he would only need to remember the seriousness of what he had been forgiven of.
Diligence in the Lord's work. Paul's memories of his forgiven sins were helping him in the Lord's work rather than hindering him. Forgiveness should have the same result in our own work in the Lord.
We live in a feel-good society that prioritizes emotional happiness. In our culture, painful feelings are avoided at all costs. But such an approach to life is inconsistent with the Scriptures. Jesus was a Man of Sorrows. He did not teach that we should avoid painful thoughts but that we should think rightly about them. When we choose to think rightly, even our most painful memories can strengthen us spiritually.
So, my dear friend, my advice to you is this: embrace your painful memories -- but take them before God's throne and seek His help in thinking about these things as you should. Avoid worldly sorrow, thank God for His grace, let yourself be humbled by the memory of your sins, and let your gratitude for grace send you back into the Lord's work with a greater wisdom and strength than you had before. The devil says, "All is lost," but God says, "Much can yet be done, my child." To whom will we listen? That is the choice we must make.