I wonder if you know the story in the bible about Lot’s wife? With her husband and children she was rescued from the town of Sodom, and told not to look back as Sodom and Gomorrah were being destroyed. But she did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. A Sunday school teacher was telling the children this (rather horrific!) story and one child piped up: “My mum was driving to Sainsburys yesterday and she turned into a tree!”
Jokes and scary bible stories aside, we do well to look back. Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, said: “Life can only be understood backwards but it must be lived forwards.”
Towards the end of the day is a great time to spend a few minutes reflecting on the day, replaying the parts we can remember. I often understand things better looking back, playing the scenes over in my mind, and sometimes notice things I haven’t noticed during the day.
I might recall that Gerald was unusually preoccupied when we met, or wonder why Jenny wasn’t at her desk, or suddenly realise what I’d said to Chris on the phone that made him so frosty. It’s a good thing to do as a regular way of prayer – reflecting on the day with God, thanking him, asking help, praying for people I’ve met and noting tasks to do – like saying sorry!
It’s the same only bigger looking back on a year. Reflecting on what I’ve made time for, what or who I’ve neglected, how much holiday or retreat time I’ve taken, how much I’m drinking, how much I’ve given to charity – all in all a sort of (gentle!) audit.
And it’s the looking back, the real experience of life, that helps us look forward and know we can live a bit differently, think about changing jobs, spend more time with children, go to the gym, use up less of the planet’s resources…
We are constantly having to ‘move on’. We’re growing up, leaving school, learning to live independently, in a new job, a new relationship, we’ve become parents (again), we’re learning to live with limited mobility or without a loved one by our side. Life always comes as a package, some of which we shape and some of which simply happens to us.
I think experience teaches us (mostly!) that we are far stronger than we think we are; we cope with situations that we would have found it hard to contemplate. We have deep resources. God has given us deep resources, not least that he walks alongside us and gives us one another.
I think experience teaches us that we can embrace the new things, and the gradually changing things, in life, with hope and trust in the good purposes of God. Our package of life will contain some hard things, and will bring us into some seriously hard times, but St Paul gives some good advice to the Christians in Philippi:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul goes on to urge us to fill our minds with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable… That is probably the best way to a happy new year for each of us and the people who live with us.
As Dag Hammarskjold famously said: “For all that has been – thanks. For all that will be – yes.”