In 1986 The Monkees released the song “That Was Then, This is Now.” It was a surprise hit climbing all the way to #20 on Billboard Hot 100. The Monkees even had a small resurgence from that song. In the Bible we read that God told Joshua basically the same thing when He said, “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel” (Joshua 1:2 NKJV). Until then all the Israelites, including Joshua, expected Moses to lead them into the Promised Land. But God informed Joshua, “That was then, this is now” (I’m paraphrasing).
I spend entirely too much time analyzing the past. My thoughts occasionally wander off into the “Land of If Only.” I think thoughts like, if only I’d acquired more education, or if only I wouldn’t have quit that job so soon, or if only I would have quit that other job sooner. Other thoughts might include, if only I would have invested in that opportunity, or if only I hadn’t invested in that get-rich-quick scam! The list goes on and on, but it’s just an exercise in futility, self-defeating, and quite depressing.
I recently did another mental exercise where I pictured a big magic eraser on a giant pencil. With that device I had the power to erase events and even years of unhappy times from my life. At first the exercise was fun because I could simply erase events from my life that I wished never happened. I thought about several years that I wouldn’t mind eliminating completely. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that life’s events seem to be interconnected. Oftentimes a bad event leads into a good event and unproductive years precede exceptionally fruitful years. A bad job occasionally opens the door to a great job. Troubled seasons periodically lead to peaceful seasons. I had to mentally stop erasing the dark nights of my past, because I came to the understanding without them I would have never awoken to some of the brightest and most glorious days in my life.
In Philippians 3:13 (NLT) the apostle Paul writes, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” It takes less effort for me to forget the bad events of my past than it does the good ones. I’ve forgiven and moved on from holding anything against those who have injured me in the past. All of that stuff is water under the bridge for me. It’s the good memories that I tend to dwell upon in unhealthy ways. It’s okay to remember wonderful times, magical experiences, and favorable circumstances, but we can’t set up camp and live there! Our minds tend to block out the bad and glorify the good from our past. Songs that remind us of the good old days are forever etched in our mind. In reality, the bad times were not all bad and the good times were not all good. The apostle Paul said he focused on the pathway in front of him and left the past behind (good and bad). There’s nothing wrong with reminiscing, but we must resist the temptation to stay there too long.
Knowing that, “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day” (Proverb 4:18 NASV) should help us from getting bogged down in the good old days of our past. Our focus should be on living in the present and staying excited about the future. I love the lyrics to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song The Glorious Unfolding. “Lay your head down tonight. Take a rest from the fight. Don’t try to figure it out. Just listen to what I’m whispering to your heart ‘Cause I know this is not anything like you thought the story of your life was gonna be. And it feels like the end has started closing in on you but it’s just not true. There’s so much of the story that’s still yet to unfold. And this is going to be a glorious unfolding. Just you wait and see and you will be amazed. You’ve just got to believe the story is so far from over. So hold on to every promise God has made to us and watch this glorious unfolding.” Those last two lines of the chorus are powerful. Think about the fact that our “story is so far from over.” All we need to do is, “hold on to every promise God has made to us and watch this glorious unfolding.” It’s a cliché but it’s true, “This is the first day of the rest of your life.” Or as Frank Sinatra declared, “The best is yet to come.” When tempted to over-analyze and dwell on the past, remember the good advice of the Monkees, “That was then, this is now.”