FEW things are more detrimental to moving forward than incessantly looking back. This applies to spiritual progress as certainly as it does to running a marathon. Christ Jesus once admonished his followers, ``Remember Lot's wife.''1 While we can certainly learn important lessons from retrospection, we might take this admonition as a call to abandon unhealthy preoccupation with the past.
The Master was referring to the Old Testament story of Lot and his family, who were delivered from the decadence and eventual destruction of the city of Sodom by two angels.2 The family was then told by the angels not to look back. But Lot's wife disobeyed, and she became a pillar of salt.
Perhaps more important than any literal significance of this story is what it teaches about the paralyzing effects of an over-the-shoulder approach to life. Nostalgic longing to return to the past, a haunting sense of missed opportunities, depressing memories, chronic remorse -- these impede spiritual progress.
The Bible is imbued with a marvelous sense of the nowness of God's care. The good news of the gospel is that the kingdom of heaven -- all true joy, love, health, supply, satisfaction -- is at hand. The good that we would associate with a previous time or place Jesus declared to be present here and now. To him good could no more be consigned to the past than could God Himself, and the Master proved this by restoring health and well-being to countless individuals.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes, ``Faith in divine Love supplies the ever-present help and now, and gives the power to `act in the living present.'''3 Spiritually understanding God as the ever-present source and giver of all good ensures a growing freedom from looking back with longing or regret.
This, of course, is not to say that we should renounce cherished memories. Spiritual blessings gained from previous experiences are as eternal as God, their source. These words from a hymn express this thought beautifully: ``For all of good the past hath had / Remains to make our own time glad.''4
What we need to renounce is any mesmeric focus on the past. For example, some advocate an ongoing analysis of our past in order to understand who we are now and how we might better deal with current difficulties. There is much to be said for learning valuable lessons from previous experiences. But for those who have gone through deeply troubling times, an intensive examination of the past can prove agonizing and futile.
Our need is not continually to look back, but prayerfully to reach forth to God for an understanding of who we really are as His loved children, created in His likeness. Paul said, ``Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.''5
Humbly accepting what God is revealing about our true nature enables us to overcome weaknesses and to be more Christlike. Our genuine selfhood is not a mortal with a long history of joys and sorrows, successes and failures; it is the timeless, spiritual offspring of God. Our only real history is spiritual.
When we are tempted to focus on the past, we would do wellto remember Lot's wife. We can go forward, enriched by the blessings we've received and the lessons we've learned, trusting the Father's ongoing love and care.
1Luke 17:32. 2See Genesis 19:15-26. 3The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 12. 4Christian Science Hymnal, No. 238. 5Philippians 3:13, 14.