One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were passing by a field of grain. The disciples were hungry, so they picked the heads of the grain to eat. Some Pharisees saw this and got quite angry! Didn’t Jesus know that his followers were violating one of God’s commandments, that we keep holy the Sabbath? But Jesus wasn’t backing down—in fact, he made this astounding claim: “The Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mark 2:28). God himself had established the Sabbath—and only God could make judgments about how to honor it. In calling himself the Son of Man, Jesus was revealing that he is one with the Father and equal to him, even in the mystery of his Incarnation.
Jesus was also revealing something else about himself: his sovereignty over time. As the eternal Son of God, Jesus is Lord, not only over the Sabbath, but over all time. Just as the Father creates and allows each passing moment, so Jesus has authority over every minute, every hour, and every day.
That means that Jesus is the Lord of our time as well. He is the Lord of our past; he has walked with us every day of our lives, even when we didn’t know he was there. He is the Lord of our lives today; he holds us, and everything dear to us, safely in his hands. And he is the Lord of our future, so we have no reason to fear.
Our entire life—all of it, from beginning to end—is a gift from God. But often we don’t view our past, present, and future with the perspective that God desires for us. That can seem challenging; after all, our journeys are complicated and often messy. But with God’s grace, we can begin to look at the entire arc of our lives the way God does. Let’s start with our past.
Recalling Our Past. Do you enjoy looking through old photos? Maybe you see yourself as a young mom or dad, with toddlers by your side who are now grown-ups with toddlers of their own. Perhaps you see your deceased mom or dad or spouse and feel a twinge of sadness. You might chuckle at the then-stylish clothes you were wearing. Looking at old photographs and videos certainly does evoke a host of emotions.
The same is true when we look back on our lives. We might feel grateful for the good times, sad at our losses, or regretful of our mistakes. We might wish we could go back in time and live parts of our lives again. Or we might feel nostalgic and wish for the way things used to be. But whatever we are feeling, the past is past. We can’t relive, or undo, whatever has already happened.
Sometimes, however, the past brings up painful memories—and we can let those past events haunt us and cloud our thinking about the present and future. We might focus on sins we committed long ago, perhaps before we had a relationship with the Lord. Maybe we still feel guilt or shame for those sins, even if we have already confessed them.
Or perhaps we live with regrets. We might ask ourselves, What if I had been home more often when my kids were little? What if I hadn’t taken my spouse for granted? Perhaps we wonder why God allowed us or our loved ones to suffer. We may wonder if God was with us during those times. God wants to shed his light into all the events of our past so that we can recognize his presence with us, in the good times and the bad.
Allowing God to Speak into Our Past. How does God want us to understand our past? If we would bring our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures before the Lord, he would help us to see our past with his eyes. Let’s imagine what he might say to us:
“I was with you every moment of your existence. I walked with you even when you couldn’t see that I was there.”
From your mother’s womb, God has watched over you. Through the care you received as a child, he was loving you. Even when your parents weren’t able to love you as they ought to, God was shielding you and poured out his grace. He was present in every circumstance—good or bad—and was constantly at work. Through your baptism, the simple patterns of family life, and faith-filled teachers or family members, God was drawing you to himself. He was always there, rejoicing in your times of blessing and weeping with you in your sufferings.
This truth can be hard to reconcile with the full reality of our lives. It may forever remain a mystery why you or a loved one had to endure a painful situation. But Scripture tells us, “When you pass through waters, I will be with you; . . . When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). God was holding you close to his heart, even when you felt like you were walking through the fire. And he was working to somehow bring blessing out of that situation, even if you still don’t see it.
“I am merciful. I sent my Son, Jesus, to show you my mercy. I have forgiven and forgotten your past sins and mistakes.”
Think about how Jesus treated people like the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-42), Matthew the tax collector (Matthew 9:9-13), and the woman with the alabaster jar (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus knew that they were sinners, yet he refused to let their past become an obstacle between them and himself. He forgave them, and with joy he welcomed them to follow him. Remember his words to the Pharisees: “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17). That includes you!
So if you have sins from your past that you’ve never brought to Confession, do not hesitate to run to your Lord. He is eager to forgive you. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), he is longing to welcome you back into his arms through this beautiful sacrament. He wants to wash you clean so that you can see your past, not as a source of condemnation, but as a testimony of God’s mercy.
Not only does God forgive your sins, but he also forgets them: “Your sins I remember no more” (Isaiah 43:25). If God does not remember your sins, then neither should you. Jesus went to the cross so that you would not have to carry the burden of shame for sins that his Father doesn’t even recall. So ask him for the grace to surrender every sin into his loving hands.
God’s grace even extends to your mistakes—those failings that weren’t sinful but that you regret. Sometimes it’s hard to accept that because you are human, you will make some mistakes, some, even, that you only now see in hindsight. You probably did the best you could at the time. Remember that God redeems your mistakes and poor decisions. By his grace, he can use even these for your good. Somehow, “All things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).
“Throughout your past, I have shown you my goodness, faithfulness, and power. Remember these times and recall my blessings. Let this fill you with confidence and hope.”
It can be very easy to focus on the negative events in our past—and forget the many blessings God has given us. But Scripture asks, even commands us, “Recall the wondrous deeds he has done” (Psalm 105:5). This will help us to see how God has worked in our lives, both through difficulties and times of ease. It will also help us grow in gratitude for all he has done for us.
If you’re having a hard time recalling God’s goodness and faithfulness, try this: write down ten events in your life in which you saw God’s blessings or knew that he was with you. Keep adding to the list as other situations come to mind. Such an exercise will help you to see your past through God’s eyes and raise your expectations that you will continue to see God working in your life.
Face-to-Face with the Lord. Imagine that one day you are face-to-face with God in heaven. In an instant, he shows you the whole sweep of your life. Only it doesn’t look the way you remember it. Rather than focusing on your sins, God highlights all the times you sacrificed for someone, all the times you turned to him in prayer or repentance. He sees how you forgave a hurt or comforted a friend. And he says to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).
You don’t have to wait until you get to heaven to look at your past the way God sees it. Ask him for this grace today. Ask him to free you of any burden of guilt or regret you still carry from your past. Ask him today to give you a sense of deep gratitude for all the ways he has cared for you and worked throughout your life. And let this perspective shape your present and your future.