Monday, December 29, 2014

Forgetting the Past…Building for the Future

What kind of year has 2014 been for you? Does it make you want to say, “Sorry to see you go,” or “Good riddance”?

Has it been a year of moving forward, accomplishing significant goals and collecting memorable experiences? Or has it been a year of treading water at best, or of moving backward, enduring disappointments and suffering pain, whether physical, emotional or both?

Emerging from hazy past, sometimes
the future can seem equally foggy.
For many of us the ending of one calendar year and the starting of another often prompt times for reassessing where we’ve been and where we think we’re going. If the year has been a good one for the most part, we’re eager to proceed, hoping to experience more of the same – or to build even more elaborately on the foundation that’s been laid.

Sometimes, however, it’s hard to project where we think we’re headed, especially if we’re not thrilled with the journey so far. The past has a way of clinging to us even when we’d desperately like it to let go.

The past offers a particular conundrum. It’s often said those who forget the mistakes of the past are bound to repeat them, but at the same time inordinate focus on past events can become paralyzing. So how do we strike a proper balance?

Paul the apostle offers a good example to follow. Writing to followers of Jesus in the city of Philippi, Paul stated, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

This doesn’t mean the apostle had totally forgotten his past misdeeds. He vividly remembered times when he zealously opposed those he later came to regard as his brothers and sisters in Christ. “I persecuted the followers of the Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Acts 22:4). But he didn’t dwell those wrongs, no matter how wretched they were, understanding he had received God’s forgiveness. He’d become a changed man.

We all also have deeds we wish we hadn’t done or things we dearly wish we had done when we had the opportunity, but the past is written in stone. It can’t be erased. We can’t un-write our personal history, but starting today we can create fresh, new, different chapters that don't have to result in remorse and regret.

In that sense, like Paul, we also can “strain toward what is ahead,” pressing toward those things God has called us to do as well as what He wants us to become.

Then again, obsessing over the future can be as unproductive as immersing ourselves with thoughts of what’s gone before. That’s why Jesus offered this caution: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34).

Around the first of the year I have a personal tradition of reviewing the previous 12 months, my successes and failures, along with what I achieved in my quest to attain specific goals. And then I set new goals for the coming year. But I know a year’s worth of goals won’t be accomplished in a single day or a week. One day at a time is all we can do. We rightly plan for the days ahead of us – tomorrow, next week, two months from now. But the events of today have an annoying way of disrupting expectations for tomorrow.

So as we move into 2015, I’m resolved to do my best to learn from past mistakes and not repeat them, not wallow in wrongs that can’t be undone, and strive to be ready for future opportunities, remembering that in Christ, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

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