Recently, a friend used the phrase “looking back to move forward” in the context of remembering and reflecting on where you’ve been in the past as you prepare to enter a new life season. I think a long look in the rear-view mirror is wise practice and can be especially helpful when the new season you’re facing is stressful, painful, or uncertain.
More often than not, a trying or uncertain time bears resemblance to a previous one. And even when a tough situation seems entirely novel, it’s likely there are some elements that relate at least in general character to past events.
So, why should you look back, particularly if it means recalling something troubling from your past?
Obviously, you can learn lessons from past events. How did you handle the prior situation? What worked well, and what should you do differently? Even if you find yourself faced repeatedly with a particular challenging circumstance, you can approach it differently each time, armed with the knowledge gained the first time or two (or ten). Thinking back to what happened before allows you to glean wisdom to apply to your current situation.
You can also find encouragement. When standing on the shores of something unknown or difficult, it’s helpful to recall when you survived such a time before—and maybe even came out ahead. Remember ways in which you persevered, think of prayers that brought peace, and consider practices that helped you cope or gather your strength.
And you can find comfort and support. Who among your friends and family was most helpful when you went through a season like this before? Thank those people for their past support and ask for it again. At the same time, who made the situation worse? Perhaps you need to give yourself some space from those people for a little while, or be direct in telling them what’s helpful and what’s harmful.
For Christians, this looking back is a practice we’re instructed to undertake. Deuteronomy 32:7 tells us: “Remember the days of old; consider the years of many generations; ask your father, and he will show you, your elders, and they will tell you.” And there are many other verses in the Bible telling us to remember. In the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” there’s a line that says, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come,” a reference to Samuel 7:12: “Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, ‘Up to this point the LORD has helped us!'” Remembering God’s past faithfulness can fuel our faith in the current situation.
In what situations in your life would it help to take a reflective look back and raise an Ebenezer, figuratively or even literally? And think about others in your life—could someone use your help in remembering to encourage their journey forward?