Stop Driving In The Rearview Mirror
How often have you heard someone say to you, "Just let go of the past"?
I've heard that particular phrase scores of times and probably said it to others as many times as I've heard it.
It's a true and valuable piece of advice, to be sure. If you live in the past, you lose the opportunity to truly be present in the present, and the future is too cloudy and uncertain to be hopeful.
But to totally disregard the past is not helpful either.
When we say that we are "letting go of the past," it's not a license to excuse yourself or others for what has happened without seeking to learn from whatever you've done or what has been done to you.
Letting go of the past means releasing yourself from shame and allowing yourself to move forward in a new way. Letting go of the past means you don't have to keep paying for your mistakes or the abuse, trauma, or degradation you may have experienced.
It doesn't mean you don't acknowledge that whatever happened is a chapter in your story and maybe an important one that you shouldn't ignore.
Most of us walk around carrying secrets we thought we buried in the past, but like one of those awful zombie movies, those secrets always have a way of crawling out of the shallow graves we dug for them.
If we don't deal with the past healthily, we find ourselves haunted, unable to move, and frightened of what comes next.
The key is to keep the past in its proper place. Author Seth Godin puts it like this:
It’s almost impossible to safely drive a car while only looking in the rearview mirror. Only seeing where you’ve been is a terrible way to figure out where to go. But it’s really unsafe to go forward with no idea of what came before.
You can't drive by only looking in the rearview mirror, at least not safely, as Godin states. But he's absolutely right about looking back once in a while.
Every so often, you need to look in the rearview mirror to check how far you've come, if anything is coming up on you fast, or any number of "safe driving" techniques that keep you moving away from where you've been.
We learn in the Hebrew Scriptures that God doesn't hold the mistakes of our past against us. Throughout the Psalms and Prophets, we read phrases like, "I will remember your mistakes/screwups/disobedience no more."
For what it's worth, there are equivalents to the word "screwups" in ancient Hebrew. You can fact-check me if you want.
But just because God doesn't hold our past against us doesn't mean God doesn't want us to learn from it. We can remember that past in light of God's grace, however. We can look back in love and mercy on our past selves, forgiving ourselves and others as we can.
God is constantly moving with us in our present and just as often ahead of us into the future. Every mile we pass in our journey of following God's leading puts more and more miles between us and who we were in the past, what we did, or what was done to us.
I just heard a song a moment ago as I was writing with the lyrics:
"Maybe there's a past I'm running from/But it feels a lot like running to you."
It seemed too much of a coincidence to just be a coincidence, so I wrote those words into this Devo like a prayer to a God just ahead of me around the corner or whatever bend I'm approaching in the road.
May you find comfort in knowing that you have learned and continue to learn from what you see in the rearview mirror, but you don't have to go back the way you came.
You also don't have to keep driving with your gaze fixed on what's in that rearview mirror anymore.
May it be so. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.