There is an old Russian proverb, “Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye, forget the past and you'll lose both eyes”.
This time of year is one where we do a lot of looking back as we also look forward. Where we have been, where we want to go and why we are where we are. The past is an excellent teacher but can be a burdensome travel companion. We need to learn from it but we can’t stay in it.
Sometimes however, we try. ‘Back in the day’ or ‘we used to’ are only good thoughts if they are trying to help us learn what to do now. Getting stuck in the past doesn’t work. That was then not now.
Yet in our desire for progress, we would be fools if we don’t consider the failures and successes of what came before. I don’t want to walk backwards but doesn’t mean I’m not shaped as I go forwards by the road that I once trod. The past isn’t a map but more of a compass. It doesn’t show you where to go but more of the directions you need to head.
In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul writes “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”. He knows that we can’t be what we were if are moving forward.
Yet in the next few verses, he exclaims, “however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. Don’t dwell in the past followed by the idea of holding to a previous pattern and example.
Paul understood this strange paradoxical situation as well. We can live in the past but we can’t ignore it lesson either.