Looking back at times might be fun, cathartic, and helpful; however, there is trouble with looking back that can be paralyzing and treacherous.
Looking Ahead to the Future
May and June is the time of graduations, commencements, new beginnings for many students across the land. For many young people, it is the end of an era of childhood and youth because they’ve graduated from high school. The “childish” things have been put away. They are ready to move on into the realm of adulthood. The form of the future is their choosing: more training or education, entry into the workforce, getting out “on their own.” The choice and the future is theirs. So are the successes and the mistakes.
The apron strings are severed. They are being “pushed from the nest” by parents who are reluctantly forcing them to try their wings. The future is theirs. All the joys and sorrows will be theirs to bear. Dad and Mom won’t be there to protect them from or cover up their mistakes anymore. They are responsible for themselves and their future.
Looking Back to the Past
This message, however, is not just to graduates. It is to every one of us who has ever stood on the threshold of a new tomorrow with new responsibilities, challenges, promises and problems and for anyone who has ever had to face change in their lives: newlyweds, new parents, divorcees, widows and widowers. It is for those who are starting a new job or facing lay-off, unemployment or retirement and even for those who must change their way of doing things because of illness or injury. In short, this is a message for everyone of us who is old enough to have stood on the brink of the future and been excited or scared to death. It is for every one of us who has, at some point in time, wished for “the good old days.”
Memories are a wonderful part of growing up. Each of us has our share of good, bad and even mediocre memories. We have our own personal histories—no two of us is alike. There are times when looking back is enjoyable, fun and even necessary. Graduation, class reunions, weddings and even funerals are all times when we look back to days gone by and play the game of “Remember When?”
But it is not always a good thing to look back to yesterday. Longing for and even mourning over what used to be can cause some very definite problems in the here and now. The trouble with looking back is that you often get more than you bargained for! Along with good memories in the shadows of our minds, there are bad experiences, hurtful moments, unresolved conflicts and pain lurking there, too. There is, for all of us, a real danger in looking back.
Looking Back Can Lead To Paralysis
Lot had a momentary problem with looking back. He was told to flee, “but he hesitated.”1 His wife’s problem was much more permanent: “but his wife, from behind him, looked back; and she became a pillar of salt.”1
The trouble with looking back, in the first place, is that it can paralyze you. We can get so stuck in the past that we neither enjoy the present nor anticipate the future. Lot’s hesitation and his wife’s backward glance is understandable. They were leaving their home. Everything they knew and held dear was about to be destroyed.
One of the reasons Lot’s wife looked back was a fear of change—she longed for the old, familiar and comfortable. She didn’t want a new home or new friends. Another reason for the backward glance could have been guilt. Her friends had no idea of the doom to come. She could have warned them—but she didn’t.
Looking back to the mistakes of yesterday causes us to wallow in the sins, shortcoming and failures of the past. We get stymied by the “Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda” syndrome. Lot’s wife needed to recognize that she was being given an opportunity to start over—that she and her family were getting a chance to escape the wrath of God’s judgment against Sodom. They were experiencing grace and forgiveness.
Like new graduates, we need to recognize God’s forgiveness is, a commencement—a new beginning. The old things (have) passed away; behold, new things have come.3 When we confess our sins and accept God’s gift of forgiveness in the life, death and resurrection of His Son, we are set free from the past. Like graduates, we stand on the threshold of a new tomorrow that is truly “the first day of the rest of our lives.”
Looking Back Can Stunt Your Growth
Peter Pan is the classic example of “arrested development.” Question any child under the age of 80 and they will probably describe this fictional childhood hero as “the boy who could fly” and “the boy who didn’t want to grow up.” Unfortunately, Peter’s desire to hold on to his youth stunted his growth—mentally, emotionally and relationally.
God created us for growth and programmed into every aspect of our being. From the moment of conception, cells multiply and divide, forming organs and tissues that comprise this human form. Within a mere three week, a miniature heart begins to beat. Before three months have passed, all the bodily functions the unborn child will need to sustain life as an adult will be in full operation.
We are programmed to grow. Looking back stunts that growth. In the mental, emotional, and spiritual realm, we are to be growing up, maturing. That is the way God made us. Peter and Paul in their letters to the church repeat this them in a variety of ways.
We are no longer to be children…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into…Christ.4
Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the Word, that by it you may grow up in respect to salvation.5
Grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.6
The Apostle Paul was especially aware that looking back stunts our growth as thing and feeling beings AND as Christians. To the Philippians, in writing about knowing Christ Jesus and receiving all God has promised us in Him, Paul wrote, “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”2
Looking Back Can Be Fatal
For Lot’s wife, looking back had dire results. She lost her chance at a new future because she insisted on “one last look” at what she was leaving behind.
For Judas Iscariot, looking back was deadly as well. He had betrayed Jesus. It was his action, his identification that led to the Master’s arrest, torture and death. Although he tried to undo the damage by returning the bounty money, Judas kept looking back to the terrible mistake he had made. He was so obsessed with what he had done, so tormented by guilt, so overwhelmed by the horror that he saw only one way out. He threw the pieces of silver into the sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.7
The trouble with looking back is that it can be fatal. We do not drive our cars down the road while looking out the back window. To do so is to invite disaster. Unlike the fly, we can only look in one direction at a time. If we try to move forward while looking backward, sooner or later we will smack up against reality.
Looking back can blind us to the opportunities of the present and deaden us to the possibilities of the future. In most cases, there is little we can do to “undo” what has happened yesterday, last week, last year. It is over and done. History. Beyond our scope and ability to change.
We have today and, by God’s grace, tomorrow. If we insist on looking back, it can paralyze us, stunt our growth, kill us—physically emotionally, relationally and spiritually. We’ve all been afflicted with looking back. I call it the “If Only” disease. You know the symptoms.
If only I’d tried a little bit harder; If only I’d driven a little bit farther; If only I’d been a little bit stronger; If only I’d talked a few minutes longer. If only I’d laughed…if only I’d cried; If only I had not quit ‘til I tried! If only I’d waited just one more day; If only I knew the right words to say. If only I had faith—strength to believe; If only I could learn to receive; If only I had the courage to trust; If only I wasn’t afraid to adjust. If only I had the foresight to plan; If only I had the courage to stand; If only I had the power to love; If only I knew there’s a God up above. Many ideas have withered and died; Much would have been done if only I’d tried. Many a thing I might have enjoyed The dreaded “if onlys” has often destroyed. In The Shadow of the Cross - Rev. Linda D Stoddard
Let’s stop looking back. Rather, with Paul, let us press on…and reach forward to what lies ahead.2 Today is full of possibilities. It is yours. Yesterday has gone out of your hands. Tomorrow has not been promised. But you have THIS day. Use it for God.