By Larry Baker
I caught myself acting on a childhood lesson on a one-way street.
I walked from a building and headed toward my car across the street. At curbside I stopped, as a voice in my head instructed, “Look both ways!” I looked first right, then left, and caught myself chuckling. “Why?” I wondered. “Traffic’s only coming from one direction.” That lesson had directed me for decades, and now barked its orders as I started across a one-way street.
“Look both ways!” As I write, I am looking at a calendar about to say, “I have done my job. Get another one.” Only a few days remain in 2017. Another annual trek almost over! Here comes next year, a time to “look both ways.”
The Bible wants us to be thoughtful, discerning, and mindful about our lives. “Consider” is a high-profile word in the Old Testament and New, in Jesus’ teachings and in the prophets.
Year’s end is a good time to look backward. Someone contended, “Strong and well-constituted persons digest their experiences (deeds and misdeeds) just as they digest their food, even when they have some tough morsels to swallow.” A longtime friend will sometimes end part of our conversation with a brief statement, “Well, I think I understand that better now.” Looking back can offer new understanding.
In midlife, another friend lost his wife to a rare cancer after a valiant battle. On Christmas he wrote, “We are experiencing Christmas in a sea of great joy and gratitude, while never being outside the looming shadow of debilitating grief.” He continued, “We…all of us, live on Dichotomy Circle.”
Before ending his lines, he observed, “We are not alone and neither are you! Yes, there is this ….all of us are always living within earshot of the Baby cooing and crying in a manger. Emmanuel, God with US! There is always this. Thanks be to God!”
Standing on the banks of tomorrow, we can look backward and see ways God guided us and blanketed our lives in goodness. Our backward survey will chronicle God’s loving kindness and tender mercies. We will recall happily those occasions when God met humankind and pulled us heavenward.
Such memories can help us live in the present. Memory can keep us in touch with who we are as well as our purpose and goals. Now one year prepares for the sleep of history and the other readies itself for birth, and I catch a new glimpse of the importance of looking back.
Year’s end is a good time to look forward. We can look, not with anxiety but with assurance. We can look, not with apprehension, but with anticipation. As we look ahead, we cannot be certain about much, but we know all we need. My calendar already contains notes – reminders, names, appointments, and signals, all tentative. As I think ahead, I remember a colleague who often ended a conversation with “I will see you, God willing.”
We know the Bible is chock-full of visions of good things coming. Promises of wonderful and exciting things in store for God’s people saturate the Bible. Read carefully, watch for the word “shall,” and remember the word runs in front of something good that will happen. God promises things to look forward to, even when skies are dark and life is daunting. That is what “anticipate” means – to look forward to, to await eagerly, and to foretaste.
Standing curbside and looking both ways, we might take a fresh look at some words from the psalmist: “I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago….I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:5, 12, NRSV); good for God’s 21st century people as for the ancients. We might recall Moses’ word: “….it is the Lord your God who goes before you’ he will not fail you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 NRSV); true then, true now. Jesus’ words assure us, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV) — even in our turbulent, unpredictable time.
On second thought, there are good reasons for looking both ways!
Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University.