When I was a little kid, my dad built me and my brothers a tree-house. It was magnificent. There were two levels to it. The top level had a fort where we could hide out and make our last stand against the invading armies. The lower level held our means of escape if the enemy proved to be too much and broke our front lines. There was the slide, the firemen’s pole, and…. the zip-line. The zip-line was state of the art and ran about 20 feet to the nearby oak tree. With a height of 12 feet, and a max speed of 10mph, it brought a rush of pure adrenaline to the kid using it to escape the fort. One day, a few friends and me were taking turns using the zip-line, but we added a twist. We would hold on to the rope that pulled it back from the tree to the fort in an attempt to pull the other friend off the handles…. I promise I’ve grown smarter. There I was, all 56lbs of my 6 year old frame holding on to the rope, waiting for my 140lb friend to take off…. Off he went, with me gripping that rope so tightly waiting to see him fall to the ground… then off I went… tumbling over the side of the tree-house, landing on the ground below with a crunch and a scream. My right arm should not look like that!! It was grotesque and I’m pretty sure my friends threw up… payback for him pulling me over the edge like that!
I don’t know about you, but that rope is not the only thing I’ve held on to in my life. I hold on to bad habits, grudges, comments that someone said to me in the third grade, and parts of who I used to be. Just like the time I held on to that rope, holding on to these things has only ever proven to hurt or callus me (read my previous article about calluses here). Don’t we all struggle with this as humans though? We hold on to things in life that we know we shouldn’t. Or maybe we didn’t know the first time, but then after we’re told or we learn the hard way, we still hold on. It’s been easy for me to identify the things currently in my life that I need to let go of and not look at again, but what about the things in my past? Why has it been so hard to stop looking back at the things I thought I left in my past?
Take a look with me at this Old Testament story of Lot and his family’s escape from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and see how dangerous it can be for us to continue to look back our past.
At dawn the next morning the angels became insistent. “Hurry,” they said to Lot. “Take your wife and your two daughters who are here. Get out right now, or you will be swept away in the destruction of the city!” 16 When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the Lord was merciful. 17 When they were safely out of the city, one of the angels ordered, “Run for your lives! And don’t look back or stop anywhere in the valley! Escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away!” 18 “Oh no, my lord!” Lot begged. 19 “You have been so gracious to me and saved my life, and you have shown such great kindness. But I cannot go to the mountains. Disaster would catch up to me there, and I would soon die. 20 See, there is a small village nearby. Please let me go there instead; don’t you see how small it is? Then my life will be saved.” 21 “All right,” the angel said, “I will grant your request. I will not destroy the little village. 22 But hurry! Escape to it, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” 23 Lot reached the village just as the sun was rising over the horizon.24 Then the Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. 25 He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation. 26 But Lot’s wife looked back as she was following behind him, and she turned into a pillar of salt. Genesis 19:15-26
Just like Lot and his family were brought out of Sodom and Gomorrah, God has brought all of us out of something. It could have been an addiction, a sickness, a broken childhood, or an abusive relationship. You name it. We all have a past, and let’s be honest, our pasts are probably messy.
God, in His mercy, was rescuing Lot and his family from the coming destruction. His only condition was that they don’t look back at where they were coming from. It seems like such an easy task! Just don’t turn around.
Keep pressing forward.
Get to the village.
Don’t. look. back.
I wonder why Lot’s wife looked back. Did she wonder if the stove was on? Did she want to see if anyone she knew had made it out alive? Or did she not want to let go of the life she had always known? Or maybe, just maybe, she knew that she deserved the destruction God had saved her from. I don’t know why she looked back but I do know this: We cannot be faithful in the present if we are preoccupied with our past.
Just like Lot’s wife, we endanger ourselves when we stop moving towards freedom and look back at our pasts. I think many of us are caught staring, like a deer in the headlights, when it comes to our pasts. We can’t move. We can’t help but look back and blame what happened there on who we are now. We can’t help but wonder how much better off we would be today if we had never experienced “that” back there. Or maybe, we can’t help but look back and think that the destruction God pulled us from is what we still deserve. So we look back, and we are consumed, again, by what mercy has already pulled us out of.
I don’t know what you believe, but the truth is that God has called you and me to a better life. God has called us to reign as His children here on Earth. We are called to be ambassadors of Christ. He came and brought us out of the destruction in our pasts so that we could have life and life to the full. So why do we want to look back on what we’ve been brought out of? Better yet, how do we stop?
Here are three simple things I think we can do to help keep us from looking back at the destruction God brought us out of so that we can begin to experience the life we are called to live.
1) Accept help from those around you.
In Genesis 19:16 we see that Lot was hesitating to leave, so the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city. Through this we can know that we don’t have to go through this alone. Believe it or not, there are people in your life right now have gone through situations similar to what you’ve experienced. You were called to live in community, and part of living in community is letting others help you. There is no shame in looking to those around you for advice or for a helping hand! Lean on those around you. Let them help you find a way to keep pressing forward. Take their advice, and their help when needed.
2) Distance yourself from what God has pulled you out of
The angels wanted Lot and his family to flee the valley so that they wouldn’t be swept away in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They wanted them far away from what was going to happen there. We need to take this same approach with the things that are destructive in our own lives. Maybe it’s a group of friends, a job, or even a place that you know you need to distance yourself from to be able to keep on moving forward. I recognize that this is probably one of the most difficult things to do. Especially if it is family or friends who are pulling you back towards your past. But you can do it with the help of #1. Cut the ties that you have to the things that are toxic to you.
3) Focus on what is in front of you
Paul says in Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.” If we are to move forward into the freedom that was given to us we need to keep our eyes fixated on Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross. This is our heavenly prize. Begin to accept that it does not matter what you did, who you were, or what you’ve come from. Each and every situation, circumstance, and label that has been given to or that you gave yourself was left there on the cross. When we fully understand the totality of what was accomplished there, then we can rest in the promise that we have been made new, and that our future is freedom, not destruction.
Friends, you are not defined by the sins of the past, or the problems of the present, but by the promise of the future; and that future is freedom. Stop looking back, and begin to move forward in the freedom you have been given in Christ.