I have a terrible memory. Names. Dates. Appointments. You name it. If I don’t write it down and put a reminder on my phone, it will not happen. Or at least I won’t be there to see it. But why am I so good at remembering disappointments? Failures? Hurts? Sometimes it seems like my mind is predisposed to remember every pain and forget every laugh.
Sadly, I think that many of us suffer this way. We seem to be stuck, staring back at what has gone before, as if we are expecting it to somehow be different this time. And we are truly stuck, you know. You remember Lot’s wife? When their city was destroyed due to its extreme sinfulness, God chose to spare Lot’s family, but he gave them one simple instruction: When you leave, don’t stop or look back, so that you won’t be overtaken by the destruction. Leave the past in the past and keep going. Don’t even look at it! But what happened? Lot’s wife, somewhat lagging behind, turned back to see what they had left, and she was turned into a pillar of salt, forever seeing, but never leaving.
And this happens to all of us who choose to obsess about the past. We get stuck. Period. We can’t move past the thing that we won’t stop staring at. It becomes a captor who cannot release us, because unlike us, it truly cannot change. How can something that can never change somehow hope to release us? It can’t and thus the stalemate begins.
But we can change. We can turn from our precious, hope-destroying obsession with the past, and simply turn our view to our present. We can look at where we are, and shake off the cobwebs and dirt. We can begin to slowly exercise muscles that have atrophied due to lack of use. We can find other weary travelers who are plodding along life’s roads and join them on the journey, giving and receiving encouragement as we go. We can change. We can let go of the past that we have allowed to define us and move on.
Of course, the choices that we have made, the life that has gone before, it does affect our present and our future. It does mean that some things will never be experienced, or perhaps never be experienced in the way that was at one time possible, but it does not limit the future. The road ahead is still ahead, and until we reach the end of the road, our path is open before us. We get to choose where we place the next step.
Perhaps rather than believing that we have made too many bad choices and failed to walk the right path, we can choose to hear and believe the words of David, in Psalm 16:11:
“You make known to me the path of life; in you presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”