COLUMN: Looking back

How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions? Did you know that the average person sticks with theirs for about a month (or less?)? So, no resolutions from me this year, but I am planning on being far more regular with this column than I was last year.

Having said that, I want to address something I hear a lot from people and see in internet memes a lot as well. Perhaps it was best summed up by the Eagles in their classic song, “The Boys of Summer”:

“A little voice inside my head said:
‘Don’t look back, you can never look back.’”

From pop music to pop psychology, I’ve heard this basic idea repeated over and over again, especially lately. They say that to really change, you’ve got to forget your past and who you used to be. Reinvent yourself, put all that ugly stuff from your past out of your mind and be this new person you are creating.

That might sound good to you, but I really disagree. I think looking back is a necessary and indispensable part of moving forward with your life, whether that’s recovering from past failures or addictions, or just personal growth.

Please note that I said looking back, not focusing on your past or trying to dwell in it. Stopping occasionally to look back and to reassess yourself and your situation is absolutely vital if we want to get where we’re going. Here’s a few reasons why I feel so strongly about this:

Looking back let’s me accurately assess just how far I’ve come. This is particularly noticeable when you’re climbing uphill. It really hit home with me in 2016 when I hiked the first 200 miles of the Camino de Santiago. You leave St. Jean and immediately do a steep climb up the Pyrenees Mountains. As I worked my way upwards I didn’t really have a good grasp on how long it was going to take to reach the top and start the decent into Spain. But then we stopped to catch our breath and I looked back. I remember being surprised at how far up we were, and how small St. Jean looked.

Looking back motivates me. When you see how much progress you’ve made, it motivates you to keep on climbing. I know it did me on that first day on the Camino. But what about if you haven’t made much – or even any – progress? Well that ought to motivate you too! If I’m serious about moving up I both want and need an accurate understanding of both how far I’ve come and how far I’ve got to go.

Looking back makes me grateful. No matter how far I’ve come, whether that’s a lot or a little, it’s still progress. And when I see that progress really is possible, that gives me gratitude for what’s been done and hope that the rest is sure to come.

Looking back keeps me grounded. We used to say that it was a good thing for someone to ‘remember where they came from.’ I still believe it’s a good thing. I need to remember the bad so I can be grateful for the good. I also need to remember my past so that I won’t repeat it in the future. You know the quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it” – George Santayana. That’s as true for individuals as it is for nations and states.

Looking back helps me to remember my mistakes so I can pass on what I’ve learned to others. One of the greatest joys in life is to redeem some of my past mistakes by using them to warn others away from doing the same things. But I can’t do that if I don’t remember, move forward and be willing to share it all with other people.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea! As your year begins to take shape, be sure to take a few moments to catch your breath, look back, and to then resolutely move into your new life in your new year.

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Louie Marsh is pastor of Christ’s Church on the River on the Parker Strip. Visit his website HERE.

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