All too often many of us tend to stuff our hurtful or confusing feelings. We trade our grief or sorrow for anger. But in order to release the past into God’s hands, we must fully encounter our grief, and we must be willing to forgive ourselves and others for the pain that’s occurred.

This isn’t easy, but we can learn from some people who went before us. Many of the Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem after captivity in Babylon had forgotten the laws of God. During the exile, they hadn’t been taught his laws; so, naturally, they hadn’t practiced them. After rebuilding the city wall and the Temple, the priests gathered the people together to read the Book of the Law. The people were overwhelmed with grief and began sobbing because their lives in no way measured up. But the priests said to them:

Today is a sacred day before the Lord your God. Go and celebrate with a feast of choice foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:9-10).

The process of releasing the past requires grief and forgiveness. Then you are given the ‘joy of the Lord‘ as your strength. This joy comes from recognizing, even celebrating, God’s ability to set you free from the past, and in doing so, a new way of life.