Rowing Forward, Looking Back

Have you ever taken a ride out across a lake in a rowboat?  If you have, then you know that the person rowing does not sit facing the front of the boat.  The rower sits facing the rear of the boat.  This also means that the rower does not sitting facing the direction in which the boat is heading, but rather the rower must keep looking over his shoulder to make sure he is heading in the right direction.  Why must the rower, who is in control of the boat and directing the journey, not face the front of the boat nor the direction in which the boat is heading?  It just doesn’t seem logical to row forward and look back.

One of my recent reads is Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit.  In the book, she makes the statement “You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future.  We need a litany, a rosary, a mantra, a war chant of our victories.  The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we carry into the night that is the future.”  What a profound thought and statement.  Row forward and look back.  What if we lived our lives this way?

I started pondering this idea which is really not new.  Edmund Burke, an 18th century author, political theorist and philosopher said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”  Marcus Garvey, a political leader from the early 20th century said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”  “Hindsight is 20/20” is a phrase we’ve probably all heard sometime in our lives.  All throughout the Bible, we see stories of the retelling of the great and mighty things that God had done.  We even read stories, like in Joshua 4, where God told people to build an altar of stone so that when future generations asked about the pile of rocks, it would give the people a reason to remember and tell what God had done for them.

What is the purpose of rowing forward looking back?  Hope!  In the same book, Solnit also wrote, “To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.”   Hope for the future is the reason we tell and retell these stories.  That’s why I write my experiences and this blog.  Hope.  That is the reason we have the stories of the people in scripture.  Hope.  We are going to make messes…we are going to get it wrong…we are going to be hurt in this life and hurt others in return, BUT God.  God works through our messes and wrongs and hurts.  And, as only He can, God turns those messes and wrongs and hurts into something beautiful.  That, my friends, is hope!

Why should we live our lives rowing forward looking back?  The answer is certainly not just so that we can live our lives longing for those good old days nor is it so that we can play the victim because of the tragedies and traumas we may have survived along the way.  Rowing forward looking back is not about guilt and blame, nor is it about shame. Rowing forward looking back, for me, is all about seeing where I’ve been, what I’ve been through, how the Lord was with me, how He brought me through and what He is teaching me in the process.  It is about being a living stone – being a walking, talking, living, breathing monument.

How do we do it?  How do we live our lives rowing forward looking back?  We have to know our goal, our destination.  We have to have it in our sights.  We must heed the words of Hebrews 12:2-3 (MSG), “Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.  Study how he did it…..When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

Look for stories of hope.  Look not just at your own life and experiences, but also stories told and retold throughout history.  Look at the stories of the members of the “Hall of Faith” as shared in Hebrews 11.  Look at the stories of people like Corrie Ten Boom, who endured great hardships, yet journeyed on with the Lord.  Look for stories in your own family history.  I have been blessed with two women, Mary and Virginia, I am honored to know them as Grandma and Grammy, who have each had a great and lasting impact on my life.  Their lives and willingness to share their stories of love and loss, horrific tragedies and unbelievable experiences that only the Lord Jesus could have brought them through, have been great testimonies of faith and hope to me.  The hope I heard in their stories has been, at times, the adrenaline that my soul needed.

So, whether you are just starting your life’s journey or, like my sweet Grammy, you are nearing the end of this journey here, take the time to look back.  But, keep rowing forward.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.”

Soren Kierkegaard, 19th century Christian philosopher, theologian and author


Photo credit: Rachel Davis

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