You might figure that I–the gal who writes a column called “The Old Paths” for the local newspaper–would be tempted to spend too much time focusing on the past. I am indeed your local spokesperson for the “I can’t deal with progress” movement. So I often find myself with my face turned backward, longing nostalgically for what I sometimes paint erroneously as “the good ole days.”
Paradoxically, I am also a visionary who dreams of what can be. I look far into the future beyond today’s complications, clearly seeing with a prophet’s eye what awaits us if we move positively ahead in God’s Spirit.
Sandwiched somewhere in between is the present in which I have trouble living. My address tends to be either 666 Yesterday Road or 888 Tomorrow Street.
Since my separation from my ex-husband in 2007, I have spent a lot of time craning my aching neck toward the past–agonizing over where I went wrong, where we failed, what we could’ve done to fix it, what an ideal marriage could’ve been.
Is there anybody out there like me who spends time assessing the damage from the past and ends up getting bogged down in misery? Let me clarify that I am in many ways the happiest I’ve ever been. I am recently remarried to a kind, thoughtful, moral man that I absolutely adore who serves God and works hard so that I can stay home to homeschool my children and to pursue ministry in Walnut Cove. (Disclaimer: references to any good qualities of my hubster are not negative reflections on my ex-husband who also has many good qualities.)
I have an exhilarating liberty now in following the call of God. I have awesome family and friends. I laugh aloud a lot–something I didn’t realize I had lost until suddenly it came back–but now my laugh is different–louder, more joyful, more spontaneous. It’s as if I’ve tapped into a freedom and boldness that I had been too intimidated (my own fault) to step into before.
But at the same time that true happiness is present, there is an ever-present grief that hovers beneath the surface, just waiting for a weak moment to rear its ugly head. It picks those times that I am unusually tired, physically challenged, or alone late at night. Then that grief swims to the surface and bobs there until I must deal with it.
It is the grief of being divorced, the agony of having nights my children aren’t physically with me. I rehash events all the way back to the early days of that failed marriage, wondering how it could’ve been different. I ponder it over and over and over and over. . .
I didn’t get my Little House on the Prairie life–with a passel of kids (yes, I realize I have five), Ma and Pa smiling patiently despite blizzards and grasshopper plagues, happy times around the fire with Pa’s fiddle. And thus I mourn the loss of the ideal.
My daughter Meghann, with her practical wisdom, reminds her sentimental mom that we live in a fallen world. Nobody tends to get their ideal life. Most people suffer some kind of tragedy or loss–a little boy might lose his dad to cancer, a husband might gamble away his family’s earnings, a woman may never find Prince Charming to sweep her away on clouds of marital bliss. I’ve seen parents who dream of hearing the pitter patter of little footsteps never be able to conceive and bear children.
So, yes, the sinful nature of this world more often than not rules out the “happily ever after” life.
But we rise up, repent if we’ve been guilty of sin, trust in God as a Redeemer, and move on into the future with the hand we’ve been dealt, whether by our own choices or someone else’s.
But I’m not too good at moving on. I can enjoy the present life at the same time that I spend way too much time bemoaning the failures of the past. Like a movie that is rewound time and time again, I mentally replay circumstances that are long past. And I cry bitter tears.
That was the scenario this past Saturday night. The hubster and I had had a stellar day–my son’s basketball game that morning, a fun grocery-shopping excursion, a cozy afternoon nap, Super Bowl-style food for the exciting NFL playoff games, topped off by Bible study.
My first mistake was giving in to the urge to drink the forbidden soft drink–a caffeinated one at that!
Yes sirree buddy, I was still wide awake at 3 a.m., staring into the darkness. I started off well, spending time in prayer. But that specter of “past failures” was looming nigh. Before long, I was mired up to my neck in the mud of a past I cannot change. For the thousandth time, I imagined what the ideal life could’ve been.
I wasn’t even praying, when all of a sudden I had myself a vision. A bonafide vision from the Lord. Seemingly from nowhere, I clearly saw a huge, metal door with elaborate locks on the outside. That gigantic, heavy door slammed firmly shut and the locks were set.
That was the extent of the vision, but the Spirit of the Lord began to deal with me immediately about the meaning. God was kindly but firmly instructing me to close the door on the past and not open it again. It isn’t that I am not supposed to learn from the past in order to improve my future. It is that I am to STOP hindering forward motion in my present life by keeping my face angled toward something that doesn’t even exist anymore and never did in the first place. I am to stop mourning something I cannot change.
There comes a time to take off the widow’s weeds, fold up the sackcloth and sweep up the ashes. If I don’t, I will never move confidently into the future.
When He did what He did for me in the middle of the night, I was so overwhelmed with the gratitude of His caring that much about me, that I almost immediately fell asleep in peace. I have now lived three days with no regression. If a grief-stricken thought tries to rise up, I see that humongous door shutting with finality. And I move on.
Since then, everywhere I look, there are confirmations of this express command of God to not go back. The very next morning at church, my friend Sandy brought her new gospel CD by William McDowell. She wanted us to listen to a song called “I Won’t Go Back” to use as our theme song. I had never heard it. After a few measures of it, I was totally sold. It quickly became my favorite song.
I won’t go back. The door has shut. God doesn’t want His people to mourn forever something they can’t change. He wants them to progress, to move forward in Him toward a new, albeit unexpected, life–a thriving life where they can say, “Look what the Lord has done!” Not to justify the failures and brokenness of the past, but to proclaim that He is a Restorer of our joy, a Mender of broken hearts.
Do you sometimes feel chained to your past, trapped on the broken road of your life? Well, I’m here to tell you: shut the door on what you cannot change and turn your face to the plans that your God has for you–plans to prosper you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to bring you to your expected and positive end.
Make a positive declaration to the enemy who rubs his hands together in delirious glee when you stay mired down in the muck of the past. Declare today in the words of McDowell’s song: “I won’t go back, can’t go back, to the way it used to be, Before Your presence came and changed me. All my shame. . .guilt. . .sins. . .they’ve been forgiven, No more chains, fear–my past is over.”
Then shout it out with McDowell and his choir, “I am never going back to the way it was!”
And look unwaveringly forward with unobstructed vision to the bright future God has picked out just for you.
(To hear William McDowell’s song,”I Won’t Go Back,” click on the link below. I posted the long version which has an instrumental part which is good for an extended period of praise and worship. Enjoy this anointed song!)