by Rick Stedman, Jan. 29, 2017
At a friend’s memorial service, I watched the life in pictures of a man about my own age. Strangely, it was almost as if I was at my own funeral.
There in the slideshow I saw a teenager in the 70’s: bellbottom pants, cutoff jeans (embarrassingly short), and long, flowing hair. I had to look at the face closely to realize the boy in the picture wasn’t me.
Then there appeared a young man in the 80’s and 90’s, graduating from college, getting married, and having kids. The shirts were wildly colorful, the hair short, and the joy of marriage and fatherhood clearly evident on my, err, I mean his, face.
Suddenly, middle age and early senior-dom swept by. The bellbottom jeans morphed upside down: large at the top and narrow at the ankles. The crazy clothes changed into the comfortable styles of someone no longer trying to make a statement. And the thick hair—well, let’s just call it a fond memory.
As I watched a simulacrum of my life unfold before me, I gave thanks for the goodness of God in my past. I’ve been incredibly blessed with loving parents, a great wife, and grown kids of whom I am extremely proud. Plus, I’ve been privileged to serve with fantastic people in several churches and have made precious friendships along the way. Just like the man in the slideshow, my life has been full and rich in ways money can’t buy.
It’s nice to be able to look back at one’s life with thankfulness—but then it hit me: I’m not dead yet! So should I stop looking back and instead concentrate more on the future?
Some people tend to live life in reverse. They seem to always be looking backward, talking about the “good old days.” You know, when music was cool, gas was cheap, and styles were hip. But does an overemphasis on the past somehow devalue the present and the future?
Others live only for the moment, the existentialist now. There is too much to say about this in this short space, so allow me to sum up that, for me, the present is to be grasped and enjoyed but not made into an idol.
Still others seem to live for tomorrow. “It will be better soon.” Or they promise themselves, “Pretty soon I’m going to lose weight…get a better job…kick this addiction…start going to church…[you fill in the blank].
So which is better: looking backward, ‘now-ward’, or forward?
Let me suggest instead that the healthiest and happiest option might be to follow the example of author Charlotte Bronte, “I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.”
This is one of the secret benefits of the God-focused life. When we keep our eyes on God, all things become clearer and more valuable, past, present and future. But when we look at life itself, we can lose perspective on the whole.
So as you enter a new chapter of your life, as I now am navigating, glance warmly at the past, engage thankfully in the present, and move confidently into the future. But above all, keep your attention focused upward—at Him from Whom all of life gets its meaning.
“Look up at the heavens and see; gaze at the clouds so high above you.” Job 35:5