“Keep your eyes ahead; what’s behind takes care of itself”
These were the words of my dad to me as he was teaching me to drive. I was nearly obsessively watching my rearview mirror to the neglect of what was happening in front of me. Had something gone on behind me, I was fully aware of it. Should someone pull out in front of me…well, I probably wouldn’t have noticed it soon enough.
And so, my dad’s advice came often in those early days: “Keep your eyes ahead; what’s behind takes care of itself.” Of course, he wasn’t saying be completely unaware of what’s happening in the rearview mirror, but no driver can last long on the road if they spend even 25% of their time watching their rearview mirror.
Life is a lot like that too. We’re going to find nothing but trouble in the present if we’re stuck looking into the rearview mirror of the past. As King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 7:10:
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
For it is not wise to ask such questions.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NIV)
How often do we hear or think, “If we could only go back to xyz, we’d be better off!” While sometimes this could be true, Scripture says we’re foolish to think that way. Our amazing memories can erase the bad things of our histories and what we’re left with is so wonderful we’d be fools to NOT want to go back to it.
The problem is…it didn’t happen that way. The “old days” weren’t better than these. Different? Yes. But there were challenges back then too. We’ve just chosen to forget them and magnify the parts we do remember. “The ‘good old days’ are the combination of a bad memory and a good imagination” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, 88).
Living in the past cripples us in the present. This mainly happens because try as we might we cannot bring the past into the present. And this inability binds us to powerlessness.
It also makes us cynical and jaded. Since yesterday was “soooooo much better” and today is terrible, our outlook is pessimism and misery. Prolonged fixation on yesterday only brings us sadness, loss, and agony.
Does that mean reminiscing is unwise? Not necessarily and yes.
As I write this, Christmas Day is only four days away. Christmas brings back so many memories of the past: my childhood, Patty and me before we had children, Christmas in our first home, our daughter’s (Dani) first Christmas, our son’s (Jonah) first Christmas, among many, many others.
If I stay there too long, my reminiscing can become depressing because those Christmas memories have been stored in silver and gold tinsel and decorated with gently twinkling Christmas lights while a light snow falls outside the frosted window pane of my mind’s eye. And doesn’t that “Hallmark Channel Christmas” seem better than Christmas 2016??
Yesterday is gone so we must take advantage of what we have: today.
When you read this, 2017 is still relatively new and we’re all settling into it. While we learn from the past, we press forward to the future for us while we enjoy the moments of “today” we have been given. Anything else is, in the words of Scripture—unwise.