Wisdom Looks Back to Look Forward
When I write, I often know how I want the piece to begin and end. It’s just those pesky missing chapters or paragraphs in-between that become problematic. So, I look back to previous chapters in order to make progress on the next ones. The chapters yet unwritten.
Today, many of us look back to a life-changing day in the United States eighteen years ago. We know where we were and what we were doing when tragedy struck. We look back and remember.
I will never forget walking through the September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City six years ago and finding a note placed on a memorial wreath by a name etched in concrete. Before this encounter, I had felt a general sadness for those who had fallen; after, it became personal. The note read:
Your children and I miss you more and more each day. Donald (14) plays soccer, golf, and drums in his first year of high school. Lara (14) continues to dance and sing. She was selected to be in the select choir. Connor (11) looks just like you and loves the ocean. He has the same passion for bodyboarding as you did. They speak of you often and wish you were here to see them grow up. As for me, I am very busy running around getting them to all their activities. I miss our life together.
Until we meet again. Love, your wife Jacqueline
On the other side of the letter was another picture with this message:
Every year on your birthday your niece, nephew and children throw a wreath in the ocean in Montauk. This was your favorite place. Everyone misses you.
As tears streamed down my face, remembrance went from “history” to “personal.”
This past week, Wyndham and I looked back through pictures representing memories, as our church celebrated her 40th anniversary. It was inspiring to remember spectacular ways God has changed countless lives. It was also sad, yet inspiring, to look back on the life of a dear friend who passed from this life two weeks ago. Another treasured friend left our house to drive to a place in the mountains—to look back and remember his beloved wife on what would have been their anniversary today. Remembrance is personal.
Though we are living in difficult chapters, we can look back to remember the goodness of our God and his unspeakable blessings in our lives. Though we have shed many tears these last few days simply remembering, they are precious, meaningful tears because they come from love. Remembrance is personal.
Remembrance becomes personal only when names, emotions, and memories are attached to an event we are remembering.
Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are merely historical, general events until they are attached to someone whose love captures our hearts. Whose presence we feel. When this happens, remembrance becomes personal and revolutionizes the way we think and live. I owe the meaning and hope in my life to his example, sacrifice, power, words, and his Spirit that lives in me. If my remembrance of Jesus isn’t personal, then he will be a distant historical event observed in a museum, rather than a current life-changing, joy-producing relationship.
Looking back at Jesus’ life and experiencing his presence makes remembrance personal and helps me look forward. Because of his life, I know the way the story ends—and it’s glorious.
When we look back to look forward, the chapters become clearer. They may look blank and scary now, or contain new plot twists we did not intend or wish to write about—but nonetheless, they are part of our story. May we always remember the ending, and faithfully and courageously write (live) new chapters.
As we remember, may we let Jesus’ love inspire us to look forward to the day when there are no more tears, no more death—only life lived in love in the presence of God and all who have given their lives to him.
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:2-5)