My wife and I recently went on a boat trip through some areas of Puget Sound in northwest Washington. It was one of those short cruises in the evening where dinner is served and you can see the islands during the remaining day light while going out, but dusk and darkness allows you to see the coastal lights and night sky on your return.
We sat across from each other at a table, she seeing where we were going, me seeing from where we had been. She would point out something nice for me to see but, facing the wrong way, it was difficult, in my old age, to continually turn around to see things from her point-of-view. “That is all right,” I said, “my view of you is pretty nice, too.” She rolled her eyes, as she usually does after my many corny comments. But, the experience got me thinking that, although our boat may be moving forward into new waters, it was like I was only looking in the rear view mirror at where we had been. I’ve known many people stuck in life like that; those who couldn’t see where they were going, because they were still living in the past – they had no plans, or ideas, of what lay ahead.
Contemplating on this idea of looking backward, my mind wandered to the Bible, as it often does, and reminded me of when one of Jesus’s would-be followers said to him, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus answered, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:61–62, NRSV). The lesson here, is to give your life completely to your new duty and let go of the old, for Christ cannot accept conditional service; other concerns, like home ties or old problems, would only delay following him.1
Likewise, in making personal progress in anything you do, you can’t drive straight down the road of life, if you only have your eyes fixed on the rear view mirror. Regrets, hardships, and tragedies are part of everyone’s life experiences, however if there is any reluctance to leaving those thoughts behind, you will drive a crooked road ahead. You can let your past problems be teaching tools to reflect upon your previous path, just don’t linger by dwelling on them or let them become a road block. Think of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:26), she dallied and her looking back was an inclination to go back. As the Benson Commentary states so very well, she “hankered after her house and goods in Sodom” and was hesitant in moving forward on a new path.2 Lot also resisted leaving Sodom (Genesis 19:16), but angels encouraged him to move on and he did.
Don’t get me wrong, the things we leave behind, good or bad, still add value to our life, because they got us to this point, but take them for what they are and move forward. Remember, if God can forgive you for all kinds of regrets, you should be able to forgive yourself, too. This reminds me of a song by a New Orleans musician titled “To Make Me Who I Am.” He vents his past life filled with hard times but, with God’s assurance, he accepts his past and moves on. Here are a few of those lyrics:
I’ve walked through this world, sometimes without a friend
My life has been up and down, been close to an end,
I’ve been through the fire and I’ve walked in the rain
I’ve felt the joy and endured the pain,
God said, “I forgive you, wipe away the scars
‘Cause I know it took who you were
And where you came from, to make you who you are.”3
Yes, good or bad, your past has helped forge who you are today. Take this new “you” and move forward onto a new path. Keep Jesus’s statement in mind, when he spoke to that potential follower in the book of Luke, and don’t plow your field while looking back. Temporary reflection is one thing, but focus your attention on what lies ahead and move on.
Copyright © 2017, Dr. Ray Hermann
(Leave any comment at end, after References & Notes.)
1. Notes for Luke 9:62, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, retrieved 12 September 2017, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/9-62.htm
2. Notes for Genesis 19:26, Benson Commentary, retrieved 12 September 2017, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/genesis/19-26.htm
3. Neville, Aaron, (recording artist), selected lyrics from song “To Make Me Who I Am,” from audio album To Make Me Who I Am, (A&M Label, 1997).