The Problem with Retrospection

There are many things in life that cause us to pause for retrospection. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the demise of a relationship – these are all significant changes in life that can turn our focus backward.  However, I’ve found that the catalyst for my own retrospection need not be so catastrophic.  For instance, tonight I find myself looking back after a silly fight with my husband.  At the time, of course, the fight did not seem so silly.  Careless words were spoken, feelings were hurt and all hell broke lose.  In the end, though, my husband and I said our apologies. Now he is sleeping soundly and here I am wide awake wondering how I reached this point in my life.

When times are tough, I often wonder about the choices of my past.  If I had chosen something different, if I had gone another direction, if I had said something else, if I had said nothing at all, would I be experiencing my current difficulties? Would I be struggling?  Would I be hurting? I torment myself with the “what if’s” and end up turning a temporary time of trial into a seemingly endless age of misery.  My retrospection becomes a tool that the devil eagerly uses to distract me from God’s purpose for my life.  And I willingly hand this tool over each time I utter one of my self-pitying “what if’s”.

Don’t get me wrong.  Not all retrospection is bad.  It is the intent behind the reexamination of one’s life that makes the difference.  Is the purpose for looking back to learn from one’s mistakes, to better oneself and make a difference in the future?  Or is the reviewing of one’s life choices the result of self-pity or of guilt or of self-condemnation?  In my life, the intent of most of my retrospection is the latter.  You see, I know my mistakes.  I know my sins and I am consumed with guilt because of them.  I condemn myself for making the wrong decisions and choosing the wrong paths.  And when I look back on my life, the guilt blinds me from any lessons I could glean from past mistakes. My retrospection only does me harm.

So what do I do?  I know I’ve made mistakes.  I know my current circumstances are a result of those choices.  I know I cannot change the past. How do I escape the doom of self-pitying retrospection? First, I must remind myself that I am a child of God.  I have made Jesus the Lord of my life by admitting that I have sinned and made mistakes and believing that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for those sins.  There is no room for guilt or self-condemnation in my life. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 (NLT)  The slate is clean!

Secondly, I must remember that self-pity does not belong in the life of a Christian.  The focus of a Christian’s life should be on God and never on self.  “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2 (NIV)  When I throw myself a pity party, I am demanding attention that belongs to God.  I am putting myself before God.  Even more, with self-pity, I am showing my lack of faith in God.  I am literally telling God that I do not believe that He can do what He has promised – that He will carry my burdens if I give them to Him (Matthew 11:28-30) or that He is able to work all things for my good (Romans 8:28).

Lastly, I must realize that although I am redeemed, my choices do have consequences.  Yes, I made the wrong decision and now I have to live under more difficult circumstances.  Yes, I chose to disobey God and now I must accept that I may not receive a blessing that could have been mine. The past cannot be changed but that does not mean that I am doomed to live a miserable life, that God cannot use me or that God will no longer bless me.  The Bible is filled with examples of people who failed, who made mistakes, who sinned yet were used by God in mighty ways.  Paul, Peter, Rehab, King David, Jacob, and the list goes on – all of these people had a past and all of these people made poor choices but God made something beautiful out of each of their broken, mistake-riddled lives.

In my healthy retrospection, I often think of the widow in the book of 2 Kings chapter 4. Her circumstances were dire.  Her husband had died and she faced her sons being taken as slaves to pay off her debts. Yet she did not sit in her house feeling sorry for herself and wondering “what if?”.  She ran to the only one she knew could solve her problem.  To her cry for help, God’s prophet asked, “What do you have?”  She offered the remaining fragments of her livelihood and God blessed it, multiplied it and saved her life and the lives of her sons.

All I have to offer is a broken, mistake-riddled life.  I can sit around wallowing in regret and feeling sorry for myself.  Or I can give all that I have left to God and allow Him to make something beautifully useful for His glory.

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