RELIGION: The healthy habit of looking back

Sometimes, looking back has negative connotations.

I coached cross country and track from 2003-2017 at various levels. Regardless of whether I was coaching middle schoolers or Division III NCAA athletes, there was one habit that had to be broken immediately if they were going to run under my tutelage: don't look back.

As a track and cross-country coach, it would incite my wrath when I saw one of my athletes looking back at the end of a race. Athletes have this uncanny ability to run a great race for two and a half miles and then fall apart at the last half mile. They begin to worry about what the person behind them is doing, how close they are to them or how far ahead they are. When this happens, their focus shifts away from their race and onto someone else's. My athletes all knew a simple truth: "You want to draw the ire of Coach DeGroot, look back!" It got to the point where they would yell at each other at the end of a race, "Stop looking backward, finish strong, coach is watching."

Now, as a pastor, I continue to teach and proclaim the fine art of "pressing on." The Bible is full of scriptures about looking back being unhelpful: "I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race..." (portions of Philippians 3:13-14). Luke relays to us Jesus' words telling us not to put our hands to the plow and then look back. In Isaiah 43 we read the theme of not considering the things of the past. Isaiah says that God is going to do something completely new -- so look forward to it. (my paraphrase)

In these instances, looking back is not helpful and shows a distrust in God. Going back to our old ways of sinful living, focusing on shame and living in denial of being a new creation are not healthy ways of Christian living.

But I am also here to say, it's healthy to look back, with one caveat: We must have the right perspective.

Although, I despise stopping in the middle of a running workout due to stoplights, traffic and dogs (as a former column has mentioned), there are some moments where I will take time to stop and take in the view.

Even though Siloam is located in the highlands of the Ozarks, it's pretty flat -- from a runner's perspective. There aren't many hills of sizable distance to climb within city limits. Our family lived in one location where right in the middle of almost every run, there was a half-mile incline of measurable climb that would always wear me out. On occasion, I would climb to the top of the hill and then stop and look back. In doing so, I was able to celebrate the climb (and catch my breath). With the right perspective, looking back shows you where you've been, how much work you've done to get to the top, and it gives you the opportunity to look for the next pinnacle to climb.

In the challenges of life there will be hills to climb. Some of the hills we climb are steeper and longer than others. It gives me great comfort to know that I don't climb any hill without the help of an army: my God, my family, my friends and church family -- all helping each other up one hill after another. When we climb to the top of each hill that we are climbing we get to stop, look back and celebrate just how far we've come. Looking back is healthy. So, consider how far you've come, how far God's brought you and then look forward to where He's taking you and where you're going.

Listen: "For All That You've Done" by Rend Collective.

Jeremy DeGroot is Lead Pastor at FBC Siloam Springs, a husband, daddy and musician. You can contact him via email at [email protected] or reach out on Facebook.