Forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal...
As so often happens in our lives of faith, there is a paradox here: On the one hand , we need to reflect periodically on the roads we have traveled in order to understand fully where we find ourselves, and why. On the other hand, we must not become so preoccupied with “what lies behind” that we are immobilized in bitterness, turned to pillars of salt like Lot's wife (Genesis 19: 26).
Saint Paul's advice to forget what lies behind us and press on toward what lies ahead—our ultimate encounter with Christ—echoes down through the ages with a special poignancy, as he apparently wrote the letter to the Christians at Philippi while he was in prison in Rome, and facing his own death.
It is during our own times of danger or captivity that it is most tempting to look back in the kind of self-pitying nostalgia epitomized by Lot's wife. She chose (contrary to God's explicit command) to stop and look back on the doomed cities of Sodom and Gomorrah rather than travel toward the new hope God had prepared.
Like Lot's wife, we sometimes lament to ourselves, “If only.…” “What if?” we ask ourselves. And we risk wasting time on what cannot be changed, while God is urging us forward instead.
At one point in C. S. Lewis's Prince Caspian, Lucy asked the great Christ-like lion Aslan what would have happened if she had acted differently in a recent crisis. “Please, Aslan!” she pleaded. “Am I not to know?” “To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”
There will be moments on our journey when reflecting on “what lies behind” can orient us to what lies ahead. There will be other moments, however, when wallowing in vain regret can paralyze, rather than liberate. Prayer is invaluable in knowing the difference. Lucy is the wisest of the children in Narnia because she is the one closest to Aslan.
Dear Lord, thank you for offering us freedom from the burning cities of our past. Thank you for calling us to press on toward the prize of our eternal life with you, beyond the reach of anything that can harm us.
Copyright ©2005 Deborah Smith Douglas.