“One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13
At the end of a year various magazines publish their “best of” and “worst of” articles. The best movie, book, song, etc. I enjoy these editions because they are a good way to remember and reflect.
The same things occur on a personal level. The close of a year is always a time of reflection, for leafing through the pages of another chapter of life. We sing auld lang syne and pledge to hold fast to the good and cherish the family and friends that have blessed us. The end of the year is a nostalgic time, and we wrap ourselves in the blanket of a warm memories.
But not always. The end of the year can be a bitter time of reflection. Old memories rise up like ghosts to haunt the conscience. Failures return with their mocking parade. Every sin, though forgiven, revisits with undiminished bitterness. The pain of a loss, though pushed away a thousand times, is still a raw wound. At the end of the year, you may find it very hard to leave the burdens behind. And worse, this deep regret may not stab only at the end of the year. It happens daily for many of us.
Paul penned a great phrase for dealing with burdens and looking ahead with optimism. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” That sentence is a key to successful living. The delicate art of letting go and pressing ahead enables you to walk lightly and have joy in life. I’ll spend the next few weeks dealing with facets of letting go and pressing ahead.
Letting go means leaving behind the guilt, remorse, or regret for past decisions and experiences. Few burdens weigh us down more than the excess baggage of “if only.” Like a seasoned traveler, you must learn to pack lightly. For the road of life you need to leave behind soul-breaking burdens. God did not create us to carry such loads.
You have made countless decisions this past year. Some of those decisions have been very good; some may have been disastrous. It seems to be a part of human nature to dwell on the bad. “If only I had done this, or if only I had not done that.” You can remain forever in a mental court of appeals reviewing past decisions, condemning yourself for not having done better, condemning others for the harm they did you. We all tend to do this.
Robert Frost’s lines come to mind. “I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” What a courageous thought! He took the road less traveled by. We encourage one another, “don’t go with crowd, take the road less traveled.” Good! Wonderful!
But why do you suppose Frost was “telling this with a sigh?” Because after choosing one road, that choice always makes the difference, and facing the difficulties of that path will make anyone wonder about the road not taken. That road will sometimes seem to contain all that we sought and failed to find on the road we have taken. And so we feel sad and melancholy because we have taken a path that apparently has denied us the happiness we always sought. Another poet put it this way, “of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, “it might have been.” Many people trap themselves in the endless cycle of “if only.”
So how does God want us to move forward? The first step in letting go is accepting your fallibility. You’re human. You make mistakes, great and small. Accept that.
The Bible contains a great deal about our tendency to spiritual failure not because God wants to grind us down like some morbid Baptist preacher, but because He won’t remove what we keep holding on to. Confession is not a short-cut to prison. It is actually the way out of the prison we construct through pride, self-pity, and self-centeredness.
You have to fill in the blank. I am _______. What’s in the blank? For me, one thorn is my addiction. I am an alcoholic. Filling in that blank was at first enormously difficult, and I resisted it nearly to death. But filling in the blank allowed God’s grace to come into my life. Now, one day at a time, that addiction no longer rules my life. I have many other blanks, and I’m still learning to accept each one so that God can begin His work of grace.
Here’s the question you have to deal with: are you willing to fill in the blank and admit to God what He already knows?
A dozen thorns line the stem on which a beautiful rose sits enshrined. In your life, each of those thorns represents a blank. Fill it in. Admit what’s there. Begin to deal with each one honestly. Only through the pain of our human frailty do we learn that God’s grace is sufficient, for His power is made perfect in weakness.
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 28, 2014