The Rearview Mirror


"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!" Isaiah 43:18-19

I wish I were the kind of person who had lived life according to God's best plan for me, but my free will got in the way so many times, leaving me with a series of regrets that rear their ugly heads with hair-trigger consistency. Though I read the words that Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus," I find myself constantly looking in my rearview mirror, working through the things I should have done, wondering how different things would be if I had.

I judge the paths I took and the decisions I made with the critical eye of a prosecutor determined to win a case, indicting myself, convicting, and executing all at once. I run through my parenting mistakes with the skill of a D.A. I was too lenient, too strict, spoiled them too much, deprived them of what they needed. I was naive; I was suspicious. I let them have too much freedom, or I didn't give them enough. And then there's my divorce, and the people I've offended or hurt-or the ones I failed to validate or acknowledge. I wake up nights and file through these things in my mind, asking God how he could ever have forgiven me for any of them, when compared to so many good people I know, I'm such a wretch. How can God use a loser like me? How can he count on my lazy, slow-learning spirit?

My friend Nell has the same thoughts late at night when she lies awake on the six-inch mattress provided by the county's Department of Corrections. She's been in jail on drug charges for fourteen years, since her two little boys were young. They've grown up without their mother. If anyone has a right to regrets, she does.

She looks thirteen months ahead to the date of her release, and knows she won't be able to step right back into her family and her life. She can't get back the years her drug abuse cost her. But during the time that she's been imprisoned, she has learned of Christ's forgiveness, and has been discipled and mentored by people who love her because Christ loves her. Her faith has had time to grow deep roots, and she's become something of a missionary among her cellmates.

She looks back on the last thirteen years and thanks God for all the suffering and the lessons she's learned, for it's given her a new life and transformed her into a new person. Instead of throwing up her hands as her children grow up without her, she prays earnestly for them and shares Scripture with them on the phone and during occasional visits. Nell talks to them of the things the Lord is doing in her life. She looks forward to the day when her sons will marry and have children of their own. "I didn't get to raise my boys," she says, "but I'll be the best grandmother you've ever seen!"

Nell has learned the lessons of pressing on and not looking back. She's a poignant example for me.

The apostle Peter learned this lesson too. After the Passover meal that we often call Christ's Last Supper, Jesus looked at Peter. "Simon, Simon," he said, "behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers" (Luke Z2:3 1-32 NASB).

Peter didn't know that in just a few hours, he would betray Christ three times. But Jesus knew. Jesus had told him-before the betrayal-that he would mess up, but when he repented, it would be time to move on and fulfill his calling. Jesus didn't say, "Peter, you are going to really blow it a few hours from now: You're going to turn tail and run, and then you're going to lie through your teeth about even knowing me. And it's a shame, because you had a lot of potential, but you'll be of no use to me then." Instead, he anticipated Peter's sincere repentance, and reminded him that his calling would still be there when he came back. For two thousand years, Peter has strengthened his brothers and sisters through his writings in the New Testament and reminded us that you can't move forward if you're looking back.

I realize that God is in control of the universe. The mistakes in my past, though dramatic to me, cannot ruin God's plan beyond repair. God is sovereign, and his plans cannot be thwarted by human beings like me. He can fill in the blanks of my mistakes, teaching my children what I failed to teach, restoring what I destroyed, rebuilding what I tore down, redeeming what I sold away.

The Bible tells me to stop looking back, to press on toward the prize. God knew my mistakes before I ever made them, yet he planned to use me anyway. He didn't see me as The Great Loser, but as someone uniquely gifted with something of use to his kingdom work. Where I see myself as a disappointment, he sees me as an asset. He already knows the fruit I will bear for him, and my future is on his mind, so much more than my past.

If God can see me that way, why wouldn't I want to press on toward that goal and wave goodbye to my fragmented, imperfect past? The future is so much brighter in Christ, and I have so many sisters and brothers who need strengthening.

Thank you, Lord, for seeing my potential instead of my past.

Blackstock, Terri. Soul Restoration. Grand Rapids: Inspirio, The gift group of Zondervan, 2005, p. 55-59.

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