Today we stand at the beginning of a new year and most of us are looking forward. Maybe with excitement and anticipation wondering what the year will hold. Maybe with resolve, determined to change certain behaviours in the hope the year ahead will be better than the one behind. At this time of year, many of us are eager to fix our eyes on what lies ahead without allowing what lies behind to trip us up. This is good and right.
But here’s the thing. Have you ever noticed how many times, while our intent is to move forward, we start by going backwards, by looking behind us?
This is especially true with driving. I’ve driven for decades and am an accomplished driver with a fairly clean record when driving forward. The same cannot be said for driving in reverse.
You can imagine that this is problematic, because getting started often involves backing out of a garage, a driveway, or a parking stall. Sometimes I feel like the trickiest part of the journey is the short stretch of backing up that needs to happen before I can get started. When I’m looking behind me, it’s not always easy to see clearly. Perspective is harder to judge. Proximity to danger can appear skewed.
But now, there’s this little thing that sits on the back of my vehicle with the potential to change my situation for the better. It’s supposed to take all the guess-work out of backing up and can be brilliant if used properly. It’s the back-up camera.
My camera is supposed to be helpful, unfortunately, I’ve found it hasn’t taken all the trouble out of driving backwards.
One of the first problems I encountered after becoming the proud owner of a back-up camera is that driving down messy roads dirties up the camera. Caked with mud from the last trip, my camera isn’t any good at helping me navigate a fresh journey.
I have complained about this to Rob. He’s assured me the camera is pretty easy to clean. Grab a tissue or simply wet your finger and rub the dirt off, he says. It sounds easy. But I have called him in tears because my mouth was bone dry from licking and rubbing and I still couldn’t see behind me. I described all the parts I had cleaned: I learned that the lights illuminating my licence plate had been rubbed clean. The nozzle that sprays water to wash my back window was rubbed clean. And I have rubbed a ridiculous number of rivets and screws without cleaning my camera.
Another problem I’ve encountered, is that the camera isn’t always pointed on the right path. How can this be, you wonder? I have put the van in reverse with my eyes fixed on the camera screen, expecting to see a portion of our driveway. Instead, the screen filled with blue skies, wispy clouds, and the tops of trees. Baffling! The picture my camera showed did not match what I knew was behind me. When I shoulder-checked I saw that, indeed, there was a driveway behind me and furthermore, there were obstacles on it. It wasn’t safe for me to back up, yet my camera showed me clear skies. What was the reason for this and which sight would I trust? I’m embarrassed to admit it took another call to Rob who quickly assessed the problem. I had been ready to drive with the back hatch open. My camera was pointed up at the sky rather than down on the road I had to drive.
Clearly the back-up camera has not taken all the guesswork out of driving in reverse for me, so my solution has been to avoid backing up whenever possible. Several months ago I arrived at a function and noticed the parking lot beside my destination was empty in contrast to the much fuller lot where I was headed. The chance to avoid some tricky parking by choosing the empty lot beckoned. Seeing that I could drive forward into a spot on the empty lot and begin my journey home already pointed in the right direction, I happily made a wide circle, drove into a spot, then did a little bit of adjusting to make sure I was straight. All without looking behind me. Even once.
A little while later I returned to my van looking forward to an easy exit. It was a sorry sight that met my eyes instead. I was still the only vehicle in the parking lot, but I had backed into one of only a handful of light-posts scattered throughout it.
All these problems with my back-up camera have left me with a trust issue. Even on days when the camera is clean, pointed in the right direction, and clearly showing me the road behind me, I struggle to trust it.
At the beginning of a new year it is wise and good to look forward with anticipation to what the year will bring. It is exciting and motivating to resolve against complacency and set goals for how this year could be better. Yet, to navigate somewhere new, we often need to take a quick look back, and we need to do it well.
Sometimes a look behind us reveals mud and dirt from the road we traveled to get to where we are. The mud obscures our vision and can intimidate us from moving forward. Travel into your new year knowing that nothing that has dirtied the path behind you cannot be cleaned. There is no mud too thick, too sticky, or too black, that Jesus cannot wipe it clean.
Sometimes a look behind us reveals that the back-up camera is pointed in the wrong direction. We see clear skies when there are dangers to be avoided. Can I encourage you to start your year making sure your camera is pointed on the right path? There is less danger on an obstacle strewn path of God than on paths that appear to be blue skies and treetop experiences but have no real substance or destination. Desert paths that are long, hard, and littered with opposition, can be paths of presence and provision.
Looking back can be hard, but when we’ve taken time to remember well, we can start fresh, with confidence. Remembering well doesn’t bog us down in guilt or shame or fear, rather it bolsters our trust and hope. The God who wipes away your dirt, the God who guides you safely on difficult paths, the God who makes a way where there was none, is the God who has been with us and will continue to be with us. We don’t look back to remember glory days, but to behold Glory.
Maybe the best remedy for a trust issue is looking back before moving forward. Remembering that who we proclaimed through the Christmas season – Emmanuel, God with us – is God unchanging. He has been with us. He will be with us.
Happy New Year!