More often than not, when I prepare for the girls' Bible study I lead, I get far more out of it than they do. At least it feels that way sometimes. Take this week for instance. We are slowly working our way through Luke and we are about in the center, finally finishing up chapter 9. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and he talks with several people on the way. He either asks the person to follow him or they volunteer and Jesus says some (in my opinion) fairly cryptic things. (vv 57-62) I will admit that none of it made much sense to me. But in studying and preparing for the Bible study, I made some realizations. (I'm a bit slow sometimes.) Jesus' comments have more to do with what it means to follow him... the need to have mercy, that there will be hardship, that it is urgent. These are important things to know, but what really struck me was the last. If you choose to follow Jesus, you can't look back.
As a younger person, this just didn't make sense. I couldn't make out what was wrong with looking back, either in Jesus' statement in ch. 9 or even with Lot's wife escaping Sodom. Why was this so wrong? Having a lot more years under my belt, I realize my perspective has changed entirely and the clarity of understanding I felt when I worked on this passage again was nearly blinding. It suddenly makes perfect sense.
There are some roads we are asked to take, sometimes even volunteering for them, that prove to be extremely difficult as you get down them a ways. This doesn't mean that we regret taking them, but living in the middle of the hard part isn't really enjoyable. It's scary and tiring and lonely and sometimes it feels as though it will go on and on like this forever. In better moments, we know this isn't quite true, but it is hard to escape feeling this way. During the hardest parts of our journey, it was so very tempting to look back and play the 'what if' game. What if we hadn't chosen this path? What would our life look like now? I must have been so much happier back then when life was easy. Think of all the things we used to do that we can't now... think of all the things we could do now if we had chosen a different path. Trust me, this kind of thinking does nothing helpful. All it does is create even more discontent with the current situation than there already was. And frankly, I'm pretty sure my life wasn't nearly as carefree as the haze of memory would have me believe. We like to erase the yuckier parts from our memory.
During the worst parts of 2013, I have to admit that I looked back with some frequency. My little pity parties, at moments, were something to behold. When I remembered that... those backwards glances at what I had given up for something I knew was better, if harder... Jesus' words suddenly made sense in a way they never had before. Even the whole story of Lot's wife makes so much more sense. If we have chosen a certain path, there is nothing good that comes of looking back, either wishing we hadn't taken the path we did or looking back at things in our life that might have been fun, but certainly weren't pleasing to God.
We have to keep looking forward because that way our hope lies. When we focus on the past, we aren't working to help our present, we are just wallowing and feeding our discontentment. Living in the present, knowing that God is there with us, even in the muck and yuckiness, is what will ultimately help us. God redeems all things in His own time.