A wife asked her husband after 30 years of marriage, “Do you regret marrying me?” He looked at her and replied, “I’ve never thought about it,” and continued watching television. She just nodded her head in response. It seems like a simple question to ask, but what if he had answered differently? How would the wife’s response have been then? A positive answer might have made her happy, but a negative one could have spilled over into an argument or worse. And what if the spouse answered positively but actually lied because he too was looking back?
God has plans for us and we should be preparing to reach the goal He is setting, not getting all wrapped up in self-pity or being self-centered.
Dwelling on the past is often a way to escape the present. We may not like our lives the way they are, and we have happy memories of how things were long ago. Maybe we were in love, but the relationship failed and we just cannot let go. It could be that we hate our job and regret leaving the company we worked for before. There are even those who dwell on living at a time in the past before they were born. They believe it was a better time, and they would have been happier living in another decade or century. These are just a few examples of why people let their minds reside elsewhere.
On occasion, it is nice to look back at memories, and it’s even fun to think about traveling to the past and maybe seeing Christ or the temple of God in Jerusalem. But if it gets to be an obsession, changes our actions or makes us depressed, it can be an issue. Dwelling on the past or looking back has always been a problem for God’s people. When God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his wife had to leave, but they were told to not look back. It was not so much to keep them from seeing what was happening but to have them forget the sinful city from which they came. Lot’s wife could not let it go. She surely had become accustomed to life there and regretted leaving some of her children behind, so she looked back and was punished (Genesis 19:1-26).
The children of Israel were also a people that could not stop dwelling on the past. After being miraculously rescued from slavery, they continually complained of how much better things had been when they were in Egypt. They seemed to forget they had been slaves and were the ones crying to God in the first place (Exodus 3:7-9). The minute things got tough they longed to go back to Egypt and often whined to Moses (e.g. Numbers 14:4; Exodus 14:11). That’s what can happen to us. We get uncomfortable and convince ourselves things were so much better before than they are now. Most of the time it just is not true.
The lost love
I once knew a girl who could not give up her first love. She quietly agonized over him for years, even more than a decade. She cried about losing him, she imagined herself running into him and the two falling in love once again. She searched for him on the Internet and asked people if they had heard from him. She never did find him, but in the process, she was ruining her marriage. Her husband himself never knew how she felt. When speaking to others she was always comparing him to her ex and treating him more as a friend then her husband. It was sad, it was eating her up inside, and it was no way to live. Many people have ended up divorced for this same reason. They will not let go of a past that they cannot go back to. It is something we do to ourselves, in our minds, and we do not belong there.
We as Christians can also become lost. Our focus gets jumbled and we look back at what could have been. In the process, we can push God away or put Him on the back burner while we focus on the imaginary. We are told to stay focused on what is ahead and leave what is in the past behind (Philippians 3:13-14; Isaiah 43:18; Luke 9:62). When we allow our minds to dwell on the past we are of little use to anyone, including God.
Allowing ourselves to get caught up in "what if" scenarios, or wishing to be somewhere else does not serve us well. It is a useless pursuit. This time, this place is where God is working with us right now. God has plans for us and we should be preparing to reach the goal He is setting, not getting all wrapped up in self-pity or being self-centered. We need to change our focus. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).