In a recent e-mail from Bill Hybels, he challenged me and thousands of other readers to think of the person who influenced us the most during our first 18 years and breathe a prayer of gratitude to God for the impact they had on our lives. This request caused me to pull out a recently completed self-coaching exercise where I identified my top ten needs and the positive or negative ways that I attempted to meet them. As I reviewed the list, it became clear that everything I valued now could be traced to something that was missing at one time or another from my life.

Most would view these unmet needs as a negative thing, but I have a different opinion after seeing the good that has come as a result of them. I am passionate about progress, for example, because as a child I saw the effect of making none. And I include as many people as possible when planning events because, growing up, I often felt left out.

We say that we don’t want anything bad to happen to us, but without the trial there would be no triumph. And although looking back to see where we’re headed sounds like an oxymoron, we’ll never grow in the direction God is leading us by looking to where others have gone.

It is our past that leads to our purpose, not someone else’s. Knowing this gives new meaning to Proverbs 22:6 because training up a child in the way he should go is about, not just discipline, but discernment. Every consequence we experience, whether brought on by our actions or another person’s, is a lesson in how—or how not—to live.

There’s no way around it: Whether our past makes us bitter or better, either way it defines us so why not choose the route that makes the world a better place to be? That’s what Joseph did in Genesis 50:20 when he forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery because it put him in a position to feed his family and all of Egypt. “You intended to harm me,” he explained, “but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Joseph was exactly where God needed him to be to make a difference during his time on earth and so are we. So instead of cursing the darkness, let’s choose to be a light as we give thanks, not just for the good influencers, but also for the ones who taught us how not to be.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6