“Home is behind, the world ahead
And there are many paths to tread
Through shadows till the edge of night
Until the stars are all alight.” (JRR Tolkien)
Why does the past often feel safer than the present? And why is it that our memories often seem more secure than the future?
This question has haunted me for many seasons, as I constantly found myself looking back, turning my head over time’s shoulder to see what had been. I saw both memories of love and trials I have overcome. But again, the query remains. Even when the facts will tell me that my past wasn’t all daffodils and roses, that life wasn’t as carefree as perhaps I remember it, it still feels safer, and I often long to go back there. Just for awhile, I wish to lose myself somewhere in time.
I suppose it might be because as the years yellow and grow golden in our hearts, much of the uncertainty and pain of those moments is glossed over, sifted out, and blended more perfectly into a whole picture. Or perhaps it is because our lives are steadily growing more difficult and more challenging and we long to return to simplicity. But my personal experience leads me to believe that the overarching theme is very basic. The past feels secure simply because we know we made it, we got through. The future bears no such guarantee. It is a haze of night-fog and sunshine, twirling together in a kaleidoscope window of uncertainty. In it there is no “Big Picture,” only a darkened road, one that we often walk with the guiding lamp bound to our feet, taking steps into lands indistinct. In this the path is only lit when we have lifted a foot and taken a step.
And that is what life itself is, a long road that goes ever on and on, a grand adventure in which each character’s existence is a woven and complex tapestry intermingling with the threads of others, with the world, and with the spiritual realm. No man is an island, and each man’s song of life is a winding course that consists of darkness and danger, joy and light, mountains, valleys, and oceans deep. But the consistent factor in each is that every incredible journey begins in one place and heads towards another. We were not meant to remain in one place, forever unchanged and immovable. The past is as its title indicates; it has passed. And we must hold onto it in our hearts while striking boldly into the adventure that is sent to us.
Bob Dylan once said,
“I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be, and so I’m on my way home.”
Despite the seemingly circular or backwards feel to our paths, the ultimate goal of every human is Heaven, our home. And this, friends, is a marvelous promise, one that we must cling to. Heaven will be far brighter and more beautiful than anything we have left behind us. Even a clean-swept blue sky or a shower of sunshine on a field of dancing green cannot compare with what lies ahead. As C.S. Lewis wrote, we were born for another world, and the hand of the Father is ever drawing forth His children and calling out to their hearts. He beckons us forward, always forward. We keep our memories safe in our hearts as they remind us of lessons learned, joys treasured, and above all they lead us to offer thanksgiving. Gratitude is the memory of the heart. But we are not called to dwell in those memories, for in doing so we may miss the even grander moments that are yet to come, if we’ll only trust the one who is leading us on.
It is not guaranteed to be easy. In fact we know the Way will often been steep and marked well with suffering. But, as the film War Horse points out, “You have to look forward, or you’ll never get home. I ask you, what could be braver than that?”
It is easy to reminisce, wearing our rose tinted lenses and sighing for what once was. But the trick is to strike a balance, to walk the line between the gratitude of memory and the thrill of the life ahead. And what have we to tremble at? The one who has overcome the world is constantly in a state of rescuing his beloved. This does not indicate that we will be snatched from all danger and trial, but the original word for rescue is rhuomai which means “to draw to oneself.” The Father is using our great adventure as the ultimate means of rescue. Ever on and on, He is drawing us to Himself.
We were born very far from where we’re supposed to be, and so let us be on our way home, wherever that may lead.
“Roads go ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow if I can
Pursuing it with eager feet
Until it joins some other way,
Where many paths and errands meet
And wither then, I cannot say.
Roads go ever on and on
Under cloud and under star
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.”
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. " (Isaiah 43:18-19)
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