I walked my 5 year old son to school today. We held hands and talked a little. I reminded him to try to help someone today. He listens and responds dutifully, “Yes, sir.” It is nothing he hasn’t heard before. Trying to be sensitive to his budding self-awareness, I stop him before we get to the school. I bend down and kiss him, whispering in his ear, “I love you, and I am proud of you.” He looks at me for a moment and says, “I love you too, daddy.” And then he walks on. Down the sidewalk. Past the cars lined up and waiting to let children out when it is their turn.
About halfway to the building now, he stops for just a moment and looks back, his expression blank. He raises his hand and waves. I smile and wave. I feel my heart coming out of my chest. It jumps in his backpack and goes with him to school.
Why did he look back? Was he saying, “Dad, you can go now.” Was he looking back to make sure I was still there? To make sure he wasn’t alone? Did he feel my gaze following him? Did he want to communicate with me one more time? Just to be sure. Just to know.
Our holy Scriptures are charged but ambivalent about the notion of looking back. In Genesis 19, Lot’s wife disobeyed the angels and looked back toward her old life in Sodom. God turned her to salt. In Jesus’ ministry, listeners occasionally made excuses about why they had to go back and do something before they began to follow Jesus. In Luke 9:62, Jesus says no one who looks back is fit for service in the kingdom.
In contrast, Jesus at the Last Supper repeatedly tells his disciples to remember. He commands them to use their minds and their hearts to continually look back to their time together, their common ministry and the intimate meal that would be their last time gathered together on this side of the cross. And, throughout Scripture, we are called to be thankful. Gratitude usually has a strong element of looking back. We look back at what God has done, and we give thanks and praise for Him and it!
In the face of this ambivalence, how then should we live as believers? In Scripture, when looking back is condemned, it because the person is looking away from God, looking back to an old way of life or looking to other priorities that they are putting ahead of responding to the call of Jesus. Conversely, looking back is encouraged when it is God we are looking for. God lives in our past, our present and our future, and it is an instant blessing to seek Him in all three places. He created, provided for and shepherded our past. He lives in us and beside us in the present. He goes ahead of us in the future, constantly dreaming and re-dreaming our best future based on the possibilities that come or leave due to our latest actions, thoughts or decisions. He isn’t a prisoner of time. He created time. He holds it in his hand. He is before, inside and after time itself. He simply is.
I believe my son looked back to see if I was there. I was there, and I will be there for him as long as I have breath. God has an even bigger promise that He makes to us. He promises to be with us eternally.
Just pause and look back on your faith journey. You’ll see where He has been working in your life. Open your hands & heart now and listen for Him in the present. Look for Him do a new thing in your life in the future. And, most importantly, just stop. Stop for a moment and look for Him. He is closer than you think.