We’re a backwards facing people. The average person lives their life walking backwards. We pay far more attention to the past than we do to the present or the future. Let’s just admit it. We’re backwards.
At this point in my life, I’m keenly aware that I am prone to be fixated with the rear view mirror. I very often catch myself thinking about what happened a half hour ago, a day ago, a week ago, several years ago. And I admit that when I do, I think “If only…” thoughts. “If I had only said that.” “If I had only done that.” “If I had only planned better.” “If I had only kept my mouth shut.” Can you relate?
There’s a well known story in the bible of a man named Lazarus who was sick. His sisters Mary and Martha were there with him, but Jesus wasn’t. We know however that Jesus “loved Lazarus” so they sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick (and presumably near death) and eventually Jesus made his way to Bethany where Lazarus and his sisters lived. (You can read the whole story in John 11.)
But Jesus was too late. In fact, when he got word that Lazarus was sick, He even said, “This sickness will not end in death.” And Jesus was wrong. Lazarus died soon after.
Jesus stayed where he was for a couple more days before heading to Bethany where Lazarus had lived. On his way, He told His disciples that Lazarus had in fact died.
So many things in this story are baffling to me, but something was said in the context of this story that I think epitomizes how I live and maybe…just maybe…how you live too.
Okay, so let’s picture Jesus and His entourage entering the town of Bethany. Lazarus had died and mourners had gathered. We soon find out that Lazarus had died 4 days prior to Jesus’ arrival. And as he arrives, Martha goes out to meet him and says the words I want to focus on:
“Lord, if only you had been here my brother would not have died.”
That statement speaks so loudly of two of Martha’s convictions: 1) that Jesus had the power to heal her brother, and 2) that Jesus let her down by not being there.
“If only” is how a lot of us live our lives. We continually evaluate what was and all too often allow it to tell us what will be. “If only” keeps us imprisoned in past events, past mistakes, past missed opportunities.
I look back a lot and wonder about when I took that right instead of that left. When I had that chance and I didn’t take it. When it seemed like a door stood in front of me and I just stared at it.
Satan will use “If only…” if you let him. Given his way, he’d prefer that you aren’t ever a forward-facing person again. As long as you’re facing backwards and making “If only” statements, you’re not facing forward and being led by God in what IS and into what will be.
So, how do we turn around? How do we live a life that gives the past its due, but not more than it deserves? A few things come to mind…
- Recognize that you’re powerless to change what was. And I know that stinks.
- Make any and all amends and reconciliations that you can with whoever lives in those “If only” thoughts with you. If you wronged someone, speak to them. It doesn’t have to be eloquent or polished, but it does have to happen.
- Stand on the power of Jesus’ forgiveness; it wipes away the “If onlys” of our past. Nothing else can, so until you know you’re forgiven, you won’t be able to face forward.
I know there’s a lot more to this story (Martha’s next words are so powerful), so read it sometime. And as you do, recognize that the same Jesus who’s with you in this moment sees your past and yet desires most to lead you forward.