“Your eyes should look straight ahead, yes, fix your gaze straight ahead of you.”—PROV. 4:25.
SONG 77 Light in a Darkened World
1-2. How can we follow the advice found at Proverbs 4:25? Give an example.
IMAGINE the following scenarios. An elderly Christian sister reflects on good times from her past. Even though her life is more challenging now, she continues to do all she can for Jehovah. (1 Cor. 15:58) Every day she imagines herself and her loved ones living together in the promised new world. Another sister remembers that she was hurt by a fellow believer, but she chooses to let go of her resentment. (Col. 3:13) A brother is keenly aware of his past mistakes but focuses on staying faithful from now on.—Ps. 51:10.
2 What do these three Christians have in common? All of them remember what happened in their past, but they are not living in it. Rather, they “look straight ahead” to the future.—Read Proverbs 4:25.
3. Why do we need to “look straight ahead” to the future?
3 Why is it important to “look straight ahead” to the future? Just as a person cannot walk in a straight line if he is constantly looking back, we cannot move forward in our service to Jehovah if we are constantly looking back on our past.—Luke 9:62.
4. What will we discuss in this article?
4 In this article, we will discuss three traps that could cause us to live in the past.* They are: (1) nostalgia, (2) resentment, and (3) excessive guilt. In each case, we will see how Bible principles can help us, not to dwell on “the things behind,” but to stretch forward to “the things ahead.”—Phil. 3:13.
THE TRAP OF NOSTALGIA
5. What trap does Ecclesiastes 7:10 warn us against?
5 Read Ecclesiastes 7:10. Notice that this verse does not say that it is wrong to ask: “Why were the former days good?” Good memories are a gift from Jehovah. Rather, the verse reads: “Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’” In other words, the trap lies in comparing our earlier circumstances with our present circumstances and concluding that everything is worse now. Another Bible translation renders this verse: “Never ask, ‘Oh, why were things so much better in the old days?’ It’s not an intelligent question.”
6. Why is it unwise to keep thinking that our life was better in the past? Give an example.
6 Why is it unwise to keep thinking that our life was better in the past? Nostalgia can cause us to remember only good things from our past. Or it can cause us to minimize the hardships we used to face. Consider, for example, the ancient Israelites. After leaving Egypt, they quickly forgot how hard their life had been there. Instead, they focused on the good food they had enjoyed. They said: “How fondly we remember the fish that we used to eat without cost in Egypt, also the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic!” (Num. 11:5) But was it really “without cost” that they ate that food? No. The Israelites paid a heavy price; at the time, they were being severely oppressed as slaves in Egypt. (Ex. 1:13, 14; 3:6-9) Yet, they later forgot about those hardships and longed for the past. They chose to focus on “the good old days” instead of focusing on the positive things that Jehovah had just done for them. Jehovah was not pleased with their attitude.—Num. 11:10.
7. What helped one sister to avoid the trap of nostalgia?
7 How can we avoid the trap of nostalgia? Consider the example of a sister who began serving at Brooklyn Bethel in 1945. Some years later, she married a fellow Bethelite, and they served there together for many years. However, in the mid-1970’s, her husband became ill. She said that when he realized that his death was near, he gave her some good advice to help her cope with widowhood. He said to her: “We’ve had a happy marriage. Many people never experience that.” But he also urged her: “Don’t live in the past—although your memories will continue. Time will help you to heal. Don’t become bitter and feel sorry for yourself. Be glad you had these joys and blessings. . . . Memories are God’s gift to us.” Do you not agree that this was good advice?
8. How did our sister benefit from not living in the past?
8 Our sister took those words to heart. She served Jehovah faithfully until her death at the age of 92. Some years earlier, she said: “Looking back over 63 years in the full-time service of Jehovah, I can say that mine has truly been a satisfying life.” Why? She explained: “What really makes life satisfying is our wonderful brotherhood and the hope of living with our brothers and sisters on a paradise earth, serving our Grand Creator, the only true God, Jehovah, for all eternity.”* What an excellent example of someone who looked straight ahead to the future!
THE TRAP OF RESENTMENT
9. As referred to at Leviticus 19:18, when may we especially find it hard to let go of resentment?
9 Read Leviticus 19:18. We often find it hard to let go of resentment if the person who treated us wrongly is a fellow believer, a close friend, or a relative. For example, a sister was wrongly accused by a fellow believer of stealing money from her. Later, the accusing sister apologized, but the sister who had been wrongly accused continued to focus on what had happened. Have you ever felt like that? Even if we have not faced that same situation, most of us have likely felt resentful and have believed that we could never let go of our resentment.
10. What can help us when we feel resentful?
10 What can help us when we feel resentful? For one thing, remember that Jehovah sees everything. He is aware of all that we go through, including any injustices we experience. (Heb. 4:13) He feels for us when we suffer. (Isa. 63:9) And he promises that he will eventually undo any harm that resulted from injustices we suffered.—Rev. 21:3, 4.
11. How do we benefit ourselves when we let go of resentment?
11 We also want to remember that when we let go of resentment, we benefit ourselves. That is what the wrongly accused sister came to realize. In time, she was able to let go of her resentment. She recognized that when we forgive others, Jehovah forgives us. (Matt. 6:14) She did not minimize or excuse what her fellow believer had done, but she chose to let go of resentment. As a result, our sister was happier and was able to focus on her service to Jehovah.
THE TRAP OF EXCESSIVE GUILT
12. What does 1 John 3:19, 20 acknowledge?
12 Read 1 John 3:19, 20. Feelings of guilt are not unusual. For example, some feel guilty because of things they did before they learned the truth. Others feel guilty because of mistakes they made after baptism. Such feelings are common. (Rom. 3:23) Of course, we want to do what is right. But “we all stumble many times.” (Jas. 3:2; Rom. 7:21-23) Although we do not enjoy feeling guilty, it can do us some good. Why? Because feelings of guilt can move us to correct our course and to be determined not to repeat our mistakes.—Heb. 12:12, 13.
13. Why do we need to guard against excessive guilt?
13 On the other hand, it is possible to feel excessive guilt—that is, to continue to feel guilty even after we have repented and Jehovah has shown that he has forgiven us. That type of guilt can be harmful. (Ps. 31:10; 38:3, 4) How so? Consider the example of one sister who struggled with guilt over her past sins. She said: “I felt that I might as well not exert myself in Jehovah’s service because it’s probably too late for me anyway.” Many of us can relate to this sister’s feelings. It is vital that we guard against the trap of excessive guilt. After all, just think how happy it would make Satan if we were to give up on ourselves—even though Jehovah has not given up on us!—Compare 2 Corinthians 2:5-7, 11.
14. How can we be sure that Jehovah has not given up on us?
14 Still, we may wonder, ‘How can I know for sure that Jehovah has not given up on me?’ In a sense, by asking that question, we also answer it. Decades ago, The Watchtower stated: “We [may] find ourselves stumbling and falling many times over some bad habit that has bitten more deeply into our former pattern of life than we had realized. . . . Do not despair. Do not conclude you have committed the unforgivable sin. That is just how Satan would like you to reason. The fact that you feel grieved and vexed with yourself is proof in itself that you have not gone too far. Never weary of turning humbly and earnestly to God, seeking his forgiveness and cleansing and help. Go to him as a child goes to his father when in trouble, no matter how often on the same weakness, and Jehovah will graciously give you the help because of his undeserved kindness.”*
15-16. How have some felt when they realized that Jehovah had not given up on them?
15 Many of Jehovah’s people have found comfort in realizing that Jehovah had not given up on them. For example, some years ago, one brother was moved by an experience published in the series “The Bible Changes Lives.” In the article, a sister acknowledged that because of her past experiences, it was difficult for her to believe that Jehovah could love her. She struggled with those feelings even years after she got baptized. However, as she meditated on the ransom, she began to see things differently.*
16 How did her experience affect the brother? He wrote: “When I was young, I fought an addiction to pornography. Recently, I suffered a relapse. I’ve sought the help of Christian elders, and I’ve made progress in overcoming my problem. The elders have assured me of God’s love and mercy. Yet, at times, I still feel worthless, as if Jehovah couldn’t possibly love me. Reading [this sister’s] experience really helped. I now realize that when I think God couldn’t possibly forgive me, in essence I’m saying that his Son’s sacrifice is not enough to cover my sins. I’ve clipped out this article so that I can read and meditate on it whenever feelings of worthlessness well up within me.”
17. How did the apostle Paul avoid the trap of excessive guilt?
17 Experiences like these remind us of the apostle Paul. Before becoming a Christian, he committed a number of serious sins. Paul remembered what he had done, but he did not dwell on it. (1 Tim. 1:12-15) He viewed the ransom as a personal gift to him. (Gal. 2:20) Paul thus avoided the trap of excessive guilt and focused on giving Jehovah his best from that point forward.
LIVE FOR THE FUTURE!
18. What have we learned in this article?
18 What have we learned from examining the traps discussed in this article? (1) Good memories are a blessing from Jehovah; but no matter how good our life was in the past, our future in the new world will be better. (2) Others may hurt us, but when we choose to forgive, we are able to move forward. (3) Excessive guilt can prevent us from serving Jehovah with joy. So, like Paul, we need to believe that Jehovah has forgiven us.
19. How do we know that in the new world we will not be plagued with regrets about the past?
19 We have the prospect of living forever. And in God’s new world, we will not be plagued with regrets about the past. Regarding that time, the Bible says: “The former things will not be called to mind.” (Isa. 65:17) Just think: Some of us have grown old in Jehovah’s service, but in the new world, we will be young again. (Job 33:25) Let us, therefore, be determined not to live in the past. Rather, let us look to the future and live for what is ahead!
SONG 142 Holding Fast to Our Hope
It can be good to remember our past. But we do not want to become so focused on our past that we fail to make the most of the present or forget what will happen in the future. This article discusses three traps that could cause us to live in the past. We will consider Bible principles and modern-day examples that can help us to avoid all these traps.
EXPRESSION EXPLAINED: In this article, “to live in the past” means to keep thinking about our past—talking about it constantly, reliving it, or thinking that our life was better then.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: Feelings of nostalgia, resentment, and excessive guilt are like heavy burdens that we drag along and that hinder us from walking forward on the road to life.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: After we let go of these burdensome feelings, we feel relieved and happy, and we have renewed strength. Then we will be able to look ahead.