January is a time for new beginnings. From making (and breaking) resolutions, to making new plans and starting new projects, January brings the hope that whatever happened last year, this year can be different.
While there is a certain amount of list-making at the end of the year—everything from “The 10 Best Android Games of 2010” to “The Worst Fashion Trends of the Year”—we usually forget all that come January 1. Especially in our culture, what’s past is past, and what’s important lies ahead. Overall, I think that’s a good thing.
As my history teachers liked to remind me, studying the past can provide valuable lessons. Yet, there is a difference between learning from the past and wallowing in it. Yes, someone may have offended us. Our cause might have lost an election—or a battle, or even the war. (I get a mental image of the civil war reenactment in “Sweet Home Alabama”—an actual, if somewhat dated, cultural reference!) We might have had a bad childhood, and bad marriage, or a bad year at school. It’s good to learn from mistakes, be them ours or someone else’s.
No matter how much we try, however, we’re not going to change the past. Learn… and move on.
Focusing on what has already happened can paralyze us in the present. We can be so busy analyzing what we could have done differently, we have no energy left over for making new decisions. We can be so angry at God for allowing evil to happen in our lives that we are unable to hear his voice telling us what path to take now.
I am more than familiar with the little circuit my brain takes around and around a particular topic: Replay the scene. View it through the lenses of perfect hindsight. Flagellate myself for stupidity. Imagine a different outcome. Repeat. I seem to be most susceptible to this sort of thing between midnight and whenever I absolutely have to get up.
On the other hand, let’s suppose we’ve had some great success last year. Perhaps we finally got our book published, or the boss recognized our exceptional abilities and we were promoted. Maybe we even kept a New Year’s resolution all year. Remarkable!
Can’t I spend some time reviewing those things?
Of course I can, but only long enough to realize that God deserves the credit. (We’re sure quick enough to blame Him when things go wrong, it seems only fair that we should praise Him when life works out!)
Your brilliance, your talent, even your ability to work hard, all come from God. If our failures cause us to curse God and ourselves, then our successes all to easily lead to pride.
Just like when driving, the rear view mirror is helpful, but it’s best to spend most our time looking ahead. Perhaps the best solution is to copy Paul’s attitude in Philippians 3:13-14. “… But one thing I do: 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.”
Is there something from the past that still has its hooks in you? What are you looking forward to this year? How do we go about pressing onward to heaven?