Some time ago, a friend of mine from The Philippines sent me a card. He thoughtfully enumerated each blessing he had received from God through me over many years of close fellowship we had shared. As I read the letter, I found that my heart also began to overflow with thanksgiving and deep joy. It was joy and thanksgiving arising from the privilege of being used as one of God’s vessels to minister grace to my friend. I also realized that every single one of the blessings my friend enumerated were blessings that had been given to me from God through other people and my sense of gratitude deepened. The following quote was printed on the card my friend sent to me.
It is not only getting there but how we do it that counts in life.
This year is a year of transition year in my life journey, and so I thought I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on my life journey and to enumerate the blessings I have received from the Lord. As I began to do this, the first thing I became aware of a common element in the various times and places I received blessings — it was Jesus himself who drew near to my path and walked with me.
‘You don’t have a clue how to gain strength from your past’
I was in my late thirties. I was facing a big decision for my life and was overwhelmed by the significance of the issues involved. Not only did I hesitate in the face of this, but I struggled with deeper anxiety than I had ever experienced before. Totally unable to make up my mind, I shared my struggle with another person. His response to me was the remark quoted above. At the time I did not understand what he meant by this. I reasoned that my problem had to do with the present and the future, not the past. Up until that point, the way I lived my life was characterized by always ‘forgetting the past’ and racing ‘for the goal’ before me. I had experienced various setbacks and failures, but was always somehow able to get up again and keep on going. I derived much support from my faith after becoming a Christian, but on this occasion, I just could not see ahead; I had no clue about what I should do; I was paralyzed by anxiety.
It was from that moment that I began to incorporate into my life the practice of stopping and reflecting on the past. It was the beginning of a practice of looking back on yesterday in order to live today with the Lord, and to trust the Lord for tomorrow. In his book THE CELEBRATION OF DISCIPLINE, Richard Foster speaks about the importance of recalling and meditating on the experiences and events of our daily lives. Unless we do this, we will not be able to discover the meaning and significance of our lives. In our lives of faith, we will not be able to see the hand of the Lord who walks with us nor hear his voice. We will not be able to understand the spiritual significance of events and of our experiences. We will not hear what the Lord is trying to say to us in those experiences and events because we do not try to recollect and examine how he is at work in our lives. Henri Nouwen points out in his book HERE AND NOW:
‘It is remarkable how much of our life is lived without reflection on its meaning. It is not surprising that so many people are busy but bored! . . . A life that is not reflected upon eventually loses its meaning and becomes boring.’
This boredom could also be called the weariness of our hearts. Because I had abandoned the past, I was overwhelmed by the troubles of today, and I was hesitant about the future. What seemed like a harsh word turned out to be a word of blessing that brought a new way of traveling on my life journey. Along with that exhortation, my friend introduced me to a verse from the Psalms to meditate upon. As I meditated on that word, I had an extraordinary experience, the darkness of my despair began to gradually diminish, and rays of the light of hope began to enter my shriveled heart.
I waited patiently for the Lord
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
Psalm 40: 1-2a