“Remember the wild myrtles by the fire pit?”
“Yes, we sometimes hung a tarp on the branches so we could scoot under it and have a hot dog roast even in a drizzle.”
“Remember the pine tree in the field?”
“Yep. That was first base.”
“Remember how small these oak trees used to be?”
“Yes. I used to climb up limbs that are too rotten to trust any longer, what there are left of them.”
I remember wondering what it would be like after the boys were grown, when we were living here alone in a quiet house and an empty yard. No more wondering, only remembering.
I have said to more than one who came seeking advice that looking back on our past can be helpful. If you despair at ever becoming the Christian you ought to be, look where you were ten years ago. Can you see any improvement? Can you say to yourself, “I don’t act that way now,” about anything at all? God meant for us to be encouraged, and I find nothing in the scriptures telling me I can’t take a moment every now and then to check my progress and use it as a gauge, both to spur myself on if I see none, and to invigorate my growth with any positive impetus it gives me.
Many times we quote Paul’s comment to the Philippians, “Forgetting the things that are behind…” (3:13). In fact, I have heard preachers say we shouldn’t think about the past at all. But Paul didn’t believe that. He remembered all his life where he started, “the chief of sinners,” 1 Tim 1:16. He used that memory to keep himself humble before others and grateful to God for the salvation granted him. It bolstered his faith enough to endure countless hardships and persecutions. As a “chief sinner” he could hardly rail against God for the tortures he suffered when he knew he deserved so much more.
God has always wanted his people to remember the past. I lost count of the passages in Deuteronomy exhorting Israel to remember that they were slaves in a foreign country, and that God loved them enough to deliver them with His mighty hand. Here is a case, though, where the reminding didn’t work as it did for Paul. Still, God tried. What is the Passover but a reminder of their deliverance from Egypt? What is the Feast of Tabernacles but a reminder of His care for them in the wilderness? What was the pot of manna in the Ark of the Covenant, the stones on the breastplate of the ephod, and the pile of rocks by the Jordan but the same? “Remember, remember, remember!” God enjoined. It’s how we use that memory that makes it right or wrong.
Paul says we are to remember what we used to be. “And such were some of you,” he reminds the Corinthians in chapter 6, after listing what we consider the worst sins imaginable. You “were servants of sin” he reminds the Romans in 6:17. You once walked “according to the course of this world,” “in vanity of mind,” “in the desire of the Gentiles,” and in a host of other sins too numerous to list (Eph 2:2; 4:17; 1 Pet 4:3; Col 3; Titus 3.) Those memories should spur us on in the same way they prodded Paul. Nothing is too hard to bear, too much to ask, or too difficult to overcome if we remember where we started. Be encouraged by your growth and take heart.
And then this: let your gratitude be always abounding, overflowing, and effusive to a God who loves us in whatever state we find ourselves, as long as that growth continues.
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ, Ephesians 2:11-13.