The presents have all been handed out, company's gone, the Christmas decorations are coming down, used up Christmas trees wait next to garbage cans for pick up, and leftovers are the fare for the next few days. Now what? For many, this time of year becomes "the big let down." Coming days mean a return to the daily grind of living without the distraction of coming holidays - now spent. Attention focuses on what occupied our minds and our time prior to the frenzy of holiday preparations. This means, for many, a time of depression and anxiety as people slip back into a funk as thoughts return to loneliness, failed relationships, and reminders of lost loved ones that are missed during this time. Many are reminded, by the coming of a new year, of resolutions that failed to materialize - of good intentions that vanished into old routines. Old habits remain, as well as the weight, the debt, and the frustration of failure. Even the annual depression remains unbroken for those who vowed that this year would be different.
This is the result of a malady that many needlessly suffer from. It is the result of "looking back" without being thankful for the moment. The Devil exults with delight when we do this, because it results in the distraction of our attention from the goal that we should ever keep before us. If he can keep us preoccupied with our past, he doesn't have to work on us very hard to keep us off guard and unprepared for the Day that we should be looking toward. If you always find yourself looking in the rearview mirror, you are certain to run into your future unexpectedly. That's unprepared!
"Looking back" can serve a useful purpose as a pleasant reminder or a warning to not repeat past mistakes. However,the past should not be our home. If you constantly live in the past, you will never be prepared for the future, because faith demands that we look ahead. Remember, "...faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1)
Nostalgia is a big thing right now. Merchandising is ever more geared to appealing to baby boomers, from "retro" automotive design to "oldies music" radio stations. I enjoy 50's music, old cars, soda shops and Jimmy Stewart movies. I enjoy looking through old photos and reminiscing of more carefree days. But alas, we can't go back. Wishing we could go back is futile and counterproductive. However, if we could go back, we would all do some things differently and avoid some heartaches we suffered along the way. It has been rightly said, if our foresight was as good as our hindsight, we would all make changes to our past. But what purpose does it serve to wallow in the unchangeable past, only to suffer for it in the present?
Paul certainly had a "past" as we all do. He had much to "regret" in his life. He admitted, "...I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man..." (1 Tim. 1:13) "For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it." (Gal. 1:13) "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church." (1 Cor. 15:9) How many times did he look into the faces of those he preached to and remember that he had been responsible for the loss and punishment of some of their own family members? While his past was a source of regret, he allowed it to become a reminder of God's grace. He said, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all long-suffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life." (1 Tim. 1:15-16)
Paul discovered the secret to contentment by putting the past behind him, learning from it but not dwelling on it, and then reaching ahead with deliberate focus on heaven's goal. In recognizing the futility of dwelling on the past, he wrote these words; "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended;but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:13-14) His act of "forgetting" the past stands in stark contrast to his "pressing" toward the goal. Both are deliberate acts, but "pressing" ahead won't be accomplished if it is offset by a failure to "forget" the past.
Today is the yesterday that you will look back on tomorrow. Today is the only time that you can be in control of the outcome of your life and how you will look back on it. Now is the time to make your future a time of joy and not regret. The saddest story of regret is seen in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. (Lk. 16:19-31) Are you ready for your tomorrow, or do you have a loved one who is not ready for eternity? Now is the time to do what you may otherwise regret having left undone.
- Gary V. Womack - Dec. 8, 2003