As I near my 50th year, and as I disciple younger people, one thing is becoming clear: not much is gained from looking backwards. I’m not talking about reminiscing with friends over good memories, or looking at photo albums of our children when they were small. I’m talking about the kind of looking back that keeps a person from moving forward.
Most looking back is in the negative, with people saying things like, “I never got to have fun,” or “I married too young,” or “I should’ve stuck with the French Horn,” or “I could’ve been a teacher,” or “my parents are the reason for how I am today” or “we should have stopped at two children” or “I’ll never earn what I could have if I had gone to college” and on and on.
Then there are those who cannot get past the good times that, apparently, have left, never to return. For instance, those glorious soft-focus days when the kids were toddlers, splashing in the baby pool (as a recent empty-nester, I’ve been guilty of this!). Or, there’s that first love in 8th grade, to which every potential or current spouse is compared. There are those rose-petal early months of marriage, or the simplicity of bygone childhood with its freedom from responsibility. At age 5, the world is an endless chain of discovery, surprise, delight and possibility. Throw Santa (and finding out one day that he isn’t real) into the mix, and you’ve got enough to keep a psychologist busy for years!
But we don’t need a psychologist to tell us what the Bible already has. An occasional walk down memory lane via a scrapbook is okay. Packing our bags and moving back there isn’t. But that’s where many folks are choosing to live. They can’t seem to get past the what-ifs, missing out on the what-is’s.
For example, remembering the early love for a spouse can be good for a marriage, as it reminds us of the reason we first married. But lamenting the change that happens over time in a marriage: sloppy familiarity, job challenges and exhaustion from the arrival of sleepless yet active children--can keep us from appreciating and being thankful for what we have. We need to also see that, as a marriage or a life grows, so do confidence, comfort, closeness and reward. We rob ourselves of joy when we constantly look over our shoulder at what was or what could have been.
We’ve all heard the term "the grass is always greener." But if we had done the “what-ifs,” would life really be any more satisfying? Who can know? The person who laments not going to college doesn’t realize that they never had a college loan to pay off, and never experienced not being able to find a job in their field after four or more years of college. I know of a trained architect who is working retail!
And that 8th grade boyfriend that haunts the marriage? He’s grown up, lost some hair and leaves toothpaste on the sink just like everyone else. Seriously, the avenues each person could go down in life, starting with the parents assigned to us, are endless. Do we really want to waste “what is” by returning to a time or place that wouldn’t nearly have been as perfect as our speculating mind makes it seem? (and the reverse is true. Some, by stewing over the past, have made it much worse than it really was. And if it really was bad, they only hurt themselves by continuing to revisit it).
The Bible tells us that when we submit to Christ and agree that He is our authority in life, we are to focus on things above (Colossians 3:1-2). We do that by following Philippians 3:12-16, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”
And what is it we have already attained? If we have repented and accepted forgiveness and the gift of salvation from Jesus, we are then a new creation. “The old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17). Only then can we forgive our past and those who were part of it. Only then will we stop lamenting our bygone Camelot.
However we got here, good or bad, we can’t live there anymore. Our parents are no longer raising us, Jesus is. Our old boyfriends and girlfriends are yesterday. Leave them there. The days of our youth, good or bad, are no longer a place we live. Since we are a new creation in Christ, with a new playbook, worldview, hope and joy, we don’t need to dig up the past to try to understand today. The day we commit to walk with Christ is the day we are born. He takes away our sin, regardless of how it got there. He takes away our pain, no matter who hurt us or how. He teaches us to let go of the bad past that haunts us and the rosy past that tempts us. In Jesus we go forward into the future and purpose He has for us. He is waiting for us to stop looking back so that we can see Him, standing, right in front of us.
“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” Luke 9:62 (Note: John MacArthur makes the following comment on this verse: “A plowman looking back cuts a crooked furrow.” Looking back makes our future crooked, you might say.)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:….” 2 Corinthians 5: 17-18
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6-7
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3