Transitions aren’t easy. Don’t let anybody tell you they are. Even the “good changes”–the ones you chose for yourself on the way to a dream or desired future–exact a price in energy and adjustment. The difficulty in making a change gets compounded greatly when we don’t trust the plans God has for to give us a “good future and a hope.” Here’s a blog by Stan Rarden describing the process God led him through to come to understand how to walk through this life and all its changes.
Salt. It’s used so often in the Bible as a metaphor for good things. Salt gives flavor, it preserves, it was in biblical times a valuable commodity, bought, sold and traded like gold. I do know that salt is one of the few things in creation that never changes. Salt is always going to be NaCl, sodium chloride. It doesn’t spoil, go bad, or deteriorate. It just stays there, unless it gets spilled or trodden underfoot. Salt gives flavor, and it’s a preservative. But in one instance, salt was used as a punishment, a consequence of disobedience… a death of sorts. And I wonder about that.
God looked down on Sodom and Gomorrah, the twin cities of depravity, and he wasn’t happy. He said, “These places are beyond cleaning up. They’ve got to go.” So he told Abraham to gather up his kinfolk and leave. Abraham, model intercessor that he was, pleaded with God to spare the towns, because there must have been a few righteous people within the jurisdiction who didn’t deserve to get purged along with the sinful. So God, showing His love and patience, waited on Abraham to come up with ten people who could qualify as good. When Abraham couldn’t find a single righteous guy, God lifted his hand, Sodom and Gomorrah lit up, and all the citizens of these cities went up in the blaze… except for Abraham, his family, and his buddy Lot and his wife. They got out in time. Obviously, it paid to be tight with Abraham.
But in her heart, Lot’s wife didn’t really want to leave. Maybe she just missed her house. You know how women are about their homes. Maybe she (like some of us) just hated moving. Or maybe she liked the Sodom/Gomorrah lifestyle. I don’t know. But despite God’s instructions to “get thee out of here on the double and don’t look back,” she had to take one long last gaze at the old homestead… and she was turned into a pillar of… salt. The good stuff. The flavor of life, the all-purpose preservative. Barring any big winds, rainstorms or geological disturbances, that’s where she’d be to this day. Standing on a hilltop on the outskirts of Sodom, a silent, motionless monument to her own personal regrets.
I know someone like that. I know someone who looked back constantly to What Was, and never, to my knowledge, gave a thought to What Is, or What May Come. That person was my father.
I hadn’t been born yet during my dad’s productive days, but from all accounts he was doing pretty fine. Good job, lots of money, all the stuff. Then his illness came. I don’t know much about that, and I won’t until we meet again in heaven, but the illness stopped my father right in his tracks. Even thought he could walk, talk and do everything anyone else could, for some reason we could never understand, he became as immobile as a tree, rooted in the past, never looking forward, no vision, no hope for the future, only memories of the past. I wondered why this was, and I prayed to God for years that dad would get up and get going again, but he never did. He sat in his chair, or his favorite booth at Walgreen’s, and told stories about how things used to be. I know he lamented his days as a strong, productive man, when he made big money, drove a nice car and dressed in nice suits. He’d sit up all night, smoking cigarettes in the dark, revisiting past successes. When I’d get up and sit with him he’d tell stories about his days on the road, or growing up, or his Navy days. It was all about Back Then. It was never about Now, or Tomorrow. I guess Now was too painful, and he didn’t see any Tomorrow.
As I got older, I lost the ability to sit attentively and listen to his stories — I’d heard them so often I could actually recite them. I lost patience with him, sitting there in the dark over-filling the ashtray and re-living 1950 over and over. And I confess that I developed a deep, dark foreboding, listening to this man after whom I was named, that my father’s story was in fact my story, just preceding me by a few decades. This forgotten person who never looked forward, to whom no one ever said “I love you,” this precious soul who somehow lost – or maybe never had – the idea that he was a precious creation of God, became a symbol of fear, loneliness and failure for me. More often than I can recount, the words “You’re just like your father” rang out inside me. For most men, that’s a compliment. For me it was a curse.
But it wasn’t until today that I got a glimmer of what really happened to my dad. Setting aside his illness, which I didn’t and maybe never will understand, I now have an answer for the bigger question, which was, “Why didn’t daddy ever get better?” The answer lies in the example of Lot’s wife. She had it good, evidently, in her hometown. She and Lot had it all going on, so much so that the thought of picking up and leaving, with nothing but the clothes on her back, was too painful. So she looked back instead of ahead. She couldn’t contemplate that anything in her future could be as good as what she had just lost.
I believe this is what happened to my father. He had it all going on, too. He was successful, on the rise… and then there came this big bump in the road, this happenstance that took it all away, his job, his income, his status, his place in life. And he spent the rest of his life looking back, angry at What Was, and What Might Have Been. In effect, he became a pillar of salt, rock solid, unchanging… stuck. And I believe in my spirit that had dad turned his head around and looked forward, supreme effort though it might have been, things would have undoubtedly been different for him. Looking forward requires faith, and for some… maybe for dad… that’s more than he could manage. It was easier… actually it required no effort at all… to look backward.
So I learned today that mourning the past, grieving the failures and the lost opportunities, ensures that we will never move one inch away from where we first turned our heads around to look back. God lives in the Now, and He tells us that He has plans for us, to give us a future and a hope. Nowhere in His Word does it say to be sorry for what happened yesterday. Not only that but He also says to give no thought to tomorrow. We’ve got enough to do today to keep us well occupied.
It’s going to be a major mind-shift, but my task for now and for the rest of this walk is to live, love, experience, and thank God for all the beauty and blessings He has for me, in the Now. And I notice with great delight that there are plenty of those. More than enough, in fact, to hold my rapt attention until He calls me home.