One of the admonitions I often heard as I was growing up was how important it was to learn from my mistakes. I am not sure that I initially recognized how valuable the advice was.
We can all learn a lot from our mistakes that hopefully inform our choices in ways that mean we do not keep making the same mistake over and over again. Despite our best efforts, small mistakes often do get repeated while those major ones seem to leave a lasting impression and prevent us from falling prey to them a second time.
Looking back is supposed to help us move forward in better ways, but looking back has the potential to not only be helpful but also create a possible snare.
When I look back, I may not remember things exactly as they occurred so the information I use to help me in the present may start from a faulty base. I may see the context differently and the role I played might be a bit distorted.
It is important to remember that when I look back I do not see the past in HD video with surround sound.
Often my recollection is colored by my emotional state when the memory was put in place. Our memories are not always put down in a timeframe or sequence when we have an emotional overload going on. As a result, that will influence the colors used to paint them.
It is also true that when I look back and see the colors, I may choose to add color to what I see to match what I prefer to see in the present.
Why look back at all?
Sometimes we look back because we are trying to make sense out of who we are now or how or why we respond as we do. Sometimes we look back because something back there haunts us in some way and we want to resolve the impact of what happened.
That process can often be very helpful and produce healing in the wounds in our lives that hinder our growth in the present. I have known that in my own life and also observed that in the lives of those I worked with as a clinical counselor.
Most of us need someone else to help us in that process because we need support and guidance to help us determine what is true and what is not accurate. We also need help because we can become ensnared in looking back to such a great degree that we cannot see where we are now or where we are going.
There are those little letters on the side mirrors of my car that remind me objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Sometimes looking back can come crashing into the present on the way to healing, but if I keep looking back I will most certainly not reach my current destination and could easily end up in a heap along the side of the road.
When I am driving, I need to keep my eyes forward with only occasional glances in the side and rear view mirror. They help protect me by allowing me to see what is behind and beside me that my peripheral vision does not catch. They help me stay oriented and safer.
That is true in my life and spiritual growth as well.
What helps me in directing my life to stay oriented?
The greatest protections I have found for avoiding the snares of focusing too much on what is behind or beside me or never looking in those directions at all are: God’s Word and the companionship of another one or two believers.
God’s Word speaks truth into my life like nothing else. I also need companions to travel on the journey to hold me accountable and keep me more honest with the Lord and myself. I think both are necessary for positive growth and maturation.
We all deal with regrets. Paul provides a great example of one who could look back on his life before the road to Damascus and see much he would wish was different. He could not change his past and neither can we, but the Lord can bring grace and mercy into our lives and cover over those things in the past with His shed blood.
It is therefore of great comfort for me to adjust the direction of my gaze as he notes in Philippians 3:13-14:
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”