The old house on Billtown Road, where I lived for the first five years of my life, still looks the same as I remember it all those years ago. The front porch – where my dad stood with me during rainstorms to show me I had no reason to fear thunder – is still there. The door to the basement, the only defense my brother and I had against the evil, demented monkey that lived down there, is probably still standing. The kitchen must look different from 1970, when I used to watch fuzzy black-and-white images of Sesame Street from a distant public television station while Mom did dishes.
When I’m back home, I like to drive past the old house. I slow down and quickly soak in the memories. But I don’t stop. I can’t just walk in the place. I can’t shimmy through the bathroom window where dad once lowered me onto the toilet when we were locked out of the house. And, even if I could, I certainly wouldn’t go down in that basement.
You see, it isn’t my home anymore. Walking in the door is no longer coming home. It is now breaking and entering. Besides, even if I could just walk into the old house, it would feel… well, weird. It is someone else’s home now. None of my stuff is there. And I certainly can’t go next door and go tadpoling with friend Jimmy. He, too, is grown up and gone. As is his old house.
And, besides, I’m not five years old anymore. I have grown considerably since my tadpole catching days.
There are times when it feels good to look back at the past and remember. It warms the heart to talk with family and friends and reminisce about the old days. But, there are also times past that are less enjoyable to revisit. Times of sorrow and loss, of shame and embarrassment, of pain and harshness.
Either way, whether good or bad, the past is gone. The old house is just the shell where you spent those days. Just as, one day, our bodies will be no more than the shells where we spent our earthly days.
The apostle Paul certainly had a past. He used to terrorize Christians. This man who wrote roughly one-third of the text of the New Testament (or half of the books thereof) was at the very least an accomplice in the stoning of Stephen. Yet the Lord got ahold of Saul, and made a change in him so thorough and complete and amazing that his very identity changed (Saul becoming Paul). And Jesus righted the wrong path of his past. Saul’s sins were forgiven; Paul’s new path in Christ was set.
And Paul was not about to let the past drag him back:
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. – Philippians 3:12-16 (ESV)
The past is gone. You can do nothing about it. The future is not guaranteed to any of us. Not on this earth. While we have the promise of eternity with God in Heaven, in this life all we have is now. This very instant. This moment.
What are you going to do with this moment? Will you waste it on a past that is no longer there? Or will you press on in Christ, realizing that you are His, and free from the tentacles of days gone by? Don’t bother fretting about – or pining for – what was. Don’t look back. Keep your focus joyously on Christ, and on the road ahead.
Besides, most monkeys don’t live past thirty or forty years. That menacing primate in the basement is probably long dead by now.