What Are We Fighting For? Part 7: The Only Way Forward is Forward

Do you ever find yourself wishing you could go back in time? I sure do.

I sometimes wish I could go back to the days when daily naps were required. Or when I could still rock my kids to sleep.

Sometimes I wish I still felt optimistic about some of the dreams I once had that didn’t pan out like I hoped. Lately I’ve thought a lot about the days when my dad could give me one of his giant hugs and say how proud he was of me, and I can’t believe those days are over.

I often hear this longing from others, too. Scott and I recently had dinner with friends we’ve known for a long time, and we’re both at similar places in life… everything feels complicated, and messy, and uphill. We laughed about how much easier things were in the good old days, yet we had no idea they were good old days at the time!

They were just days. Days like today. Twenty-four hours of possibilities that we spent one moment at a time.

In our relationships, it’s especially tempting to spend our time trying to “get back to” some state we were in “before ______” (fill in the blank).

Before we stumbled into unfamiliar territory.

Before that betrayal.

Before that crisis.

Before that loss.

It’s common for couples to spend precious time trying to recapture the way we felt when we were still dating that person we thought was perfect. Or to try recapturing how we felt when that person thought we were perfect.

Best friends who grow apart often find themselves wishing they could go back to their days as 5th grade besties before boyfriends, and college, and bills changed the dynamic. But seriously, who REALLY wants to go back to 5th grade??

Life changes us and, in doing so, changes our friendships, our mindsets and the way we function in all areas of life. We can’t un-do anything that has brought us to today.

Yes, it is important for our sanity and healing to let ourselves feel and acknowledge the hard things that happen in our lives. It’s even good for us, the research says. We know from experience how important it is to ask all the big questions that rise to the surface when we’re wading through deep waters. Just get ‘em out there, along with the feelings that come with them — anger, sadness, disappointment and regrets. But expressing them doesn’t mean we go back to a previous version of ourselves.

Our experiences change us forever. And we don’t have control of so many of those experiences. But we do have control over whether we become bitter, or better. Bitterness is the result of trying (in vain) to take control of the past.

When we get into the habit of trying to reclaim some past blaze of glory, we deny ourselves the treasures that are waiting to be unearthed . The really important stuff inside us is always developing…it isn’t stuck in some previous time and place. Trying to “get back” to something that is long gone, can actually rob us of what could be, both now and in the future.

Not being able to go backward is a GOOD THING. Looking backward isn’t where we find hope for the future, or skills to do better, or motivation to press on.

So what does this have to do with loving better? Everything.

When we’re fighting for some previous reality, we are wasting our energy. When a blissful couple has a fight that reveals the worst in one another (and every couple has them) they can no longer be the couple that thinks each other is perfect. Now we must move to a different way of relating. Suddenly aware of things in ourselves and each other that aren’t perfect (and no one is) we have the opportunity to grow, to offer apologies and forgiveness, and to gain a deeper understanding of what’s true about ourselves. If we don’t accept what is and try to go back to our pre-fight selves, we’re constantly going to be frustrated.

The only way forward is forward. The more we know, the more truth can deepen our understanding, smooth our rough edges, increase our impact and navigate our relationships. If we can move forward and choose to love better knowing what we know, our relationships can actually get stronger.

Even our relationships with ourselves are affected when what we know doesn’t move into what we do. If we see data that proves that our favorite indulgence causes disease, we have a responsibility (to ourselves and the many lives we touch) to make a choice that preserves our wellbeing. Ignoring the truth doesn’t change what happens to us when we keep doing that thing that is harmful to us.

The same is true on a broader scale. We live in an age when we know more than ever about how the world operates. We can’t go back to the way things were before the reality of terrorism, or racism, or shootings existed in living color before our eyes. The story of the world is lived out before our eyes through the news sources, social media and in the entertainment industry. There’s no way to rewind the story so we don’t have to know about the things that affect the world around us.

The desire to go backward is something we hear a lot in church. “So and so just needs to get back to her faith…” But let’s be honest. If what she believed about God didn’t offer her enough light to see her through a dark season, I’m pretty sure she needs a new understanding rather than to go backwards to a version that doesn’t hold up when the rubber meets the road.

Weathering this world is hard. It’s normal and incredibly tempting to get stuck wishing we could time-travel back to the days when things weren’t the way they are. But no amount of wishing, or distraction, or substances can take away life’s unpleasant realities. We can, however, let them teach us a better way of functioning.

If we really want to love better, it’s time to put our big people pants on and learn from the past without trying to go back to it.

When we are fighting for our future, and the future of our families, communities and world, can we please agree that there is no “getting back to” anything?! Our only option is moving forward a little wiser.

I’ll conclude with these hopeful words:

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” - C.S. Lewis

Want to catch up on the previous six blogs in this 12-part series, “What Are We Fighting For?” Start here.

Emily SutherlandComment