As I celebrated New Year’s Day, I seemed to be bombarded with God’s message in Philippians:
But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Yeah, yeah. New Year. Fresh start. Forget your past failures and sadness and press on toward better things. Forgive others and yourself. Forget the past. Move away from what was and live the way God intended. Get better, do better, be better.
Blah, blah, blah.
Somehow I didn’t sense God saying that to me, though I have always internalized those particular verses with those thoughts (minus the “yeah, yeah… Blah, blah, blah,” of course).
I was attending a basketball game, and I noticed a Vietnam Vet — which I only knew because he was decked out in a cap and shirt designating himself as such. That war ended in 1975. I am thankful for this man’s service to our country and am deeply sorry for whatever pains and horrors he experienced while there, but, at the same time, I found it sad that an event ending nearly 40 years ago defined his current identity.
But then I saw myself — wearing the cap of “widowed young” and “instant mother of four children” — and realized I was no different, though my “cap” was not literal. That tragedy and the challenge of raising children in an already established family have often defined my life because they continue to impact me long after the death of my first husband and even after those instant children graduated high school and moved out on their own. Like the war veteran, the actual experience, followed by the memories and the aftermath of those events have long impacted my life.
But also like the veteran, I find myself bearing those titles with pride. As difficult as those times were, we got through them, and they represent success. We have overcome. Not alone. Not without God’s strength and presence. But we can look at those hardships through the knowledge that we have succeeded. That God’s strength is sufficient. Of course, like you, I can count other, much less melodramatic successes in my life — in academics, relationships, job opportunities, talents, and the like.
Generally, successes don’t come without effort. They often involve blood, sweat, and tears — but they show us who we are and, more important, they show us who God is in a deeper way. I must say the most difficult times of my life are when I have seen God most clearly and felt closest to him. I still don’t pray for trials and tribulations so I can experience God in that way, but I do know He will be with me in an almost tangible way when I need him most.
In this week’s school chapel service, a former Gator softball player came to share her testimony. It was well what you might imagine, a story about the unique way God wooed her to himself. Hers is a success story. Funny. Incredible. Touching. But what wowed me most was that Kelsey Bruder’s testimony was fresh — meaning it wasn’t just about how she became a Christian way back when, it was about what God had done in her life her two days previously.
It confirmed what I am taking as God’s message for me — via Philippians 3:13-14. Namely, God doesn’t want me to put past failures and sadness behind me — He wants me to put past failures, sadness, and successes behind me. And then press on to what He has for me today.
When I looked at those verses in context, I wondered that I had ever prescribed past failures and pains as “what lies behind.” Certainly, Paul wasn’t writing about failures; he was writing about all the “caps” he could have worn: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6). Paul pointed to his claims to fame and said he counted them as loss, compared to knowing Christ and being known by Him (Philippians 3:7-9).
I’m not quite sure where I got the idea that “what lies behind” in Paul’s letter was my negative past, but, whether taught or simply mistaken, I was wrong. I don’t want to look back at what was — even the good; I want to look forward and say, “What next, God?”
What new heights, new lows, new knowledge does God wish to impart in my life? How does He intend to use me for His glory?
As I look forward to walking with my God, it reminds me of a sundial my grandfather had purchased for my grandmother years ago. It bore the sentiment, “Grow old along with me; the best is yet to be.”
Both he and my grandmother had shown it to me at different times, equally proud of the garden adornment. I found it a precious and lovely sentiment, and while I’d like to share that thought with my own husband, I’d also like to consider that as a message from God to me.
“Sara, grow old along with me; the best is yet to be.”
It’s a great reason to look forward, not back.