Don’t look back, you’re not going that way ~ Mary Engelbreit
My husband has this unique ability of driving backwards just as well as he can forwards. Like it’s nothing. He effortlessly whips around obstacles and curves, navigating this way and that way, then smoothly comes to a stop at precisely where he intends, all the while grinning at me as I ride along in the passenger seat.
Me, on the other hand… I cannot drive backwards to save my life. I go this way and that way, too (like a drunken sailor), getting all wonky and discombobulated as I overcompensate my turns in an effort to navigate where I think I’m going. My endeavors to drive backwards have nearly ended in disaster save for the fact that I had the good sense to stop just in time. Backing up out of a parking space? No problem, but that’s about the limit to my backward-driving skills. Looking in a rear view mirror may clearly show me what’s behind me but it skews my perception of reality.
I think life can be a bit like looking in a rear view mirror. We can get fixated on the things in our past but fail to see where we’re really going. That’s because our past is familiar and we know what to expect. We have no idea what the future (the road) holds, what obstacles there will be or what curves will come but our past, we know it. Been there, done that. So we tend to look in the rear view mirror while trying to drive forward with our lives.
Honestly though, what do we have to rely on but our past experiences? You hear people talk about the “good ol’ days” or “a blast from the past” or “old school” ways, pining for what used to be. The way things were done before have to be better, right? They’re tried and true, so they must be! That new fangled way of doing things is just a fad; it won’t last. Or it seems reckless, outlandish, maybe even dangerous. It makes me think of the movie The Croods where the dad, Grug, is always chiding his family to “never not be afraid!” and saying things like “N-NO, don’t eat it, it’s neeew!” (every picky eater’s dream come true). Grug spends all of his efforts trying to prevent his family from going towards an uncertain and unfamiliar future. Our future can seem like that, uncertain, unfamiliar, maybe even daunting or frightening. Things might not go well or turn out the way we planned. It’s all new, and we’re pretty sure we should never-not-be-afraid.
Granted our past provides us with a lot of experiences, and those experiences can be valuable life lessons. But when we insist on being rooted in the past, refusing to come forward, we sidetrack our future. Like Grug, we may be afraid of the future and make futile attempts to prevent the inevitable. Or like me trying to drive backwards, we risk ending up in a worse situation than if we’d just put our life in gear and go forward. Rather than risk the unknown, we prefer to stick to the beaten path of our past and settle for its certainties.
Another problem with rear view looking is it produces the woulda’, coulda’ and shoulda’s. We look back at the life we think we would have had, or the things we could have done, or said we should have said but didn’t. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, there is a mirror called the Mirror of Erised. Looking into it shows a person’s deepest desires, longings and wishes. In the end it’s a pointless endeavor as it produces no fulfillment for the onlooker, only disappointment and despair. It’s the same for us when we look back and wish for all our wouldas, couldas, shouldas. It becomes a self-defeating exercise with an end result of regret, disappointment, or hopelessness.
All of us can look back at any moment in our lives and think of all the ways we wished we had done things differently. I certainly can. Spoken kinder words. Had more patience. Showed more restraint. Made better decisions or different choices. I’ll be honest, that rear view looking; that staring into the proverbial Mirror of Erised (which is desire spelled backwards by the way) is hard to resist because there is always going to be that longing for something we feel we missed out. The thing is, we can’t go around spending our future wishing our past would miraculously change our present. We can’t go around rear view looking.
Now granted we can’t help but peek at life’s rear view mirror from time to time. Our past is our past; it’s kind of hard to forget or act like it didn’t happen. But instead of doing so much rear view looking, we need to do more front seat leaning (thank you, Kenny Chesney). Just like a rear view mirror is strategically placed in a car so the driver can glance at what’s behind while keeping focused on what’s in front, is how we should treat our life. Face forward, both hands on the wheel, foot on the gas while keeping our past in perspective, only looking to it for reference and lessons learned so we don’t go off course.
The thing is, God doesn’t want us to be stuck in our past. That’s why He made so many tomorrows. Each day is a new beginning, a redo, a reset button, a do-over. Each day should be an inspiration of hope for a fresh new start. Learn from our past, yes, but don’t live there. Don’t keep rear view looking. We should embrace the wonderful future God has granted us.
But what if our past seems to keep creeping up on us, or we just can’t seem to get past our past? Usually that’s an indication of something unresolved. If it appears that we keep repeating the same mistakes or getting tangled up in the same unhealthy relationships or making the same ill choices, then we need to stop and take a hard look at why. I’ve come to learn that in those moments, it’s God’s way of saying, “Hey, look out! This needs your attention!” The great thing about God is He never beats us over the head about our past. He never berates us or shames us into submission but He does point out the areas in our lives that need improvement. He only wants the best for us and by making us aware of the tangled web we’ve wove (say that three times fast!) is His way of doing that.
Have you ever seen a parent scold their child for not being able to instantly start walking? Me neither. A loving parent takes their child by the hands and helps them to take their steps while holding them up so they don’t fall. That’s how I see God in my life. Lovingly taking me by the hands, He holds me up while gently guiding me through the obstacles that trip me up, never letting me fall. While I may have shortcomings (we all do, right?) He always empowers me to improve. He always lets me know how much He loves me; believes in me and is right there with me. How fantabulous is that?! (Yes, that’s my word).
So here’s my challenge to you, dear reader, dear friend. Keep your past in proper perspective. Learn from it but don’t allow it to derail your future. You don’t have to keep rear view looking or never-not-be-afraiding (yes, I said that), or worry about crashing into your past if you will heed God’s road signs for your life. Know that He will make you new – every. day. That He loves you, and wants only the best for you.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24
Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning. – Psalm 30:5
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. – Psalm 46:5
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-24
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing… – Isaiah 43:18-19
If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new! – 2 Corinthians 5:17
And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5