Now nearing the end of my second week in the UK, I keep falling more and more in love with what I get to see and do. It’s difficult to imagine life getting much better than it is right now. So it was very strange that, after having what was probably the most fun night I’ve had in the last couple of weeks, I would wake up upset, longing for something of the past.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced one thing that we find difficult to let go of. Maybe it’s a friendship, event, relationship, group of people. The memories may be good or bad, but we come to a place that it’s time to let go. Often times the inability of letting go might be linked to unmet expectations, hopes and dreams, or maybe unforgiveness. It’s almost like the ending hasn’t been written in your mind, but reality speaks the truth.
This morning, I found myself with some strange emotions over a past friendship that seemed to end pretty abruptly. There are times I completely forget about what happened in those days, but other times, I am flooded with anger, sadness and a longing to go back to fix what went wrong. I began asking the Lord why I do that, why I relive memories that are long gone. Because when I do, I get stuck there and all the good in my present life starts to fade away.
Making breakfast and pondering the quandary as I do, God reminded me of the story of Lot’s wife in Genesis 19. The picture of her looking back at what she left behind in Sodom & Gomorrah was chilling to me. I think because I saw myself in her shoes for a moment, longing for something that I need not wish for: the past.
It wasn’t just that she turned around to look. The Hebrew word for “look back” (H5027) actually means to regard with pleasure, favor or care; to consider, regard. In Genesis 19:17, they were warned not to look back or stop. After reading some commentary on this, I’m not sure if the sin was actually the act of looking back, but rather the why. It’s always about the heart, isn’t it?
God says in Isaiah 43:18-19:
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I am doing a new thing…
There is something about this looking back that obviously keeps us from the best that is coming.
As I thought a bit more about this story, I had a lingering question about why God would make the punishment a “pillar of salt.” It seemed a bit random to me. Pillar gives a pretty clear picture of something stationary. The root word (H5324) also means, to settle or to stand still. Looking back, first of all, caused Lot’s wife to stop moving forward in to the freedom and safety that lay ahead. She longed for a past that was dead and gone.
When we begin to let our minds linger in things of the past, even good things, we become unable to move forward in any capacity. I believe it’s great to keep memories! But learn from them, don’t live in them. I think of a mother who never gets over the fact that her 21 year old child isn’t a child anymore. They are treated like a baby, suffocated with too many rules, or too much care that doesn’t cause them to grow up. We all have to be willing to let go and move forward.
Paul encourages through a well-known verse in Philippians 3:13-14:
But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal…
Paul knew there is nothing beneficial about staying still when it comes to our journey with Jesus. When we look back with regard for things of the past, wishing we could go back to them, it puts us at a standstill. Just like unforgiveness, just like being smothered by a mother who won’t let us grow up.
But what is this thing about salt? Why would God use salt? By its Hebrew definition (H4417, 4414), “salt” is described as easily dissolved, pulverized, or to disappear as dust. I believe this is a reminder of how easy it is to be weakened when we look back. When we look to the things of the past to find our meaning or value, or again, to live in those memories, it’s like losing muscle. We aren’t working at anything. Just as Paul encourages, we have to press on to the better coming ahead. Like salt, a pulverized substance, able to disappear as dust, we go from a strong believer to one that could blow away with any shifting of the wind. We aren’t ready for change, or for anything God calls us to, for that matter.
I think this is a big reason that Jesus tells us to give up everything and follow him. He says in Luke 9:62:
No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Those are pretty strong words, but we are not effective when we spend our lives living in the past. I very much believe that it is imperative to remember where we came from. It is still a miracle that I was a person headed for death because of my sin and Jesus decided to take the punishment that I deserve so I can have hope and freedom from that sin. However, even in remembering our salvation, I don’t believe Jesus wanted us to stay focused on the cross. He said, “it is finished!” He wanted us to move forward, acknowledging that he died, payed the penalty and then ROSE AGAIN! And now He empowers us to move through our lives in the same way.
We have the ability to live the most amazing, impacting, fulfilled lives but it won’t happen dwelling on the past. I encourage you today, keep moving forward and stop looking back. The best is yet to come.