The way you see

This 2007 addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto gives us a stark reminder of the difference between past and future.  May 2009

This 2007 addition to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto
gives us a stark reminder of how different past and future can be. May 2009

“Your past is important because it brought you to where you are, but as important as your past is, it is not nearly as important as the way you see your future.”
Tony Campolo

Some of us are fascinated with history, seeing many lessons in the past, and finding much to like there.  Others of us see history as irrelevant, and take no time or thought about what has gone before.  Campolo’s quote emphasizes that the past could never be irrelevant, since it made things what they are today.  At the same time, he wisely reminds us that our real business in the present will be determined to a greater extent by how we see the future.

Depending on how you grew up, you may want to get as far away as possible from your past, or you might want a very similar life to continue for you, albeit with a few modern updates.  How might either view affect your present life?  Can an overly close attachment to your past make you reluctant to embrace the changes that time inevitably brings?  Or can a strong desire to leave (maybe even flee or escape) the past lead to reckless decisions or foolish bridge-burning?

Campolo seems to suggest here that we should give the future, rather than the past, more influence on our daily lives.  We cannot undo or re-live the past, but we can substantially improve our own futures if we live in optimism that is unconstrained by baggage from earlier times.  Whether we are saddled with overly high expectations from having enjoyed more freedom or riches than we now have, or burdened with bad memories of unhappiness we endured long ago that makes us dread the coming years, we need the clarity that comes from seeing that the future can be as different from the past as we care to make it.

How do your ideas about the past and the future influence your behavior each day?  Do you look forward with more anticipation than dread?  Which attitude is most likely to make for a happy, productive day today?

One year ago today:

Don’t forget the present

24 Comments

  1. raynard

    Julia 2 things I heard. 1 people being called “revisionist, want to look at the past and rewrite it. 2 a saying. “How do you know where you are going if you dont know where you came from”. Through my blogs I wrote the past 7 years , I was able to “revisit painful parts but empty ones to not find out just “why& how but to learn life lessons from them. I share those lessons with others in hope of brings some encouragement dealing with the daily challenges of everyday life. I was “tested yesterday on the job. Thank God he doesnt”grade on a curve or”put on your paper”a big red ‘F” with a note, see me after class”.. be blessed

    • Raynard, there is an awful lot of revisionist history going on. I guess it could be classified as “history told from various viewpoints” since no two people will ever experience history in the same way. I do think we are wise to take a good, honest look at the past in order to learn from it. I am sorry you had a rough day at work yesterday, I hope today is better. I guess we don’t have to worry so much about these daily tests as long as we do OK on the final exam! 😀

  2. Susan

    Good morning, Julia,
    Sometimes I think, act, and feel as if I have a future to look forward to, but other times, it feels as if my future is on hold, and I’m just biding my time. Of course those attitudes affect my present. .
    I’ve found that I need something to look forward to, even, or especially, when I’m just biding time.

    • Susan, I can totally identify with that feeling. Sometimes I think I’ve been in a “holding pattern” forever. The latest holding pattern is “when everyone gets finished with all the medical treatments.” Like you, I very much need something to look forward to and get excited about. Planning for trips is one way I do that, but of course, trips haven’t been a possibility lately. I’m getting better at looking forward to little things; being together on the weekend, Jeff feeling better, photos of Grady that come in the email. One gift that comes out of all we’ve been through is a genuine feeling of gratitude just to be alive and have Jeff and Matt with me, in any circumstances.

      • MaryAnn

        Amen! Your feeling of gratitude shines through your blog!

        • Thank you Mary Ann, I feel like a hypocrite because I just vented to my sister on the phone for over an hour about various annoyances and chips on my shoulder. Let’s just say that I do better with the gratitude thing some times than others. I always know it intellectually, but sometimes I still have my little pity party or attitude problems. I do hope that the gratitude does outweigh the griping. That’s one reason I started the blog – to remind myself!

  3. I believe the greatest danger in a discussion of Past vs. Future is in over-personalizing it. A visitor at the old Royal Ontario Museum could want to avoid it because on an early visit he was coming down with the flu, and walked among the exhibits feeling nauseated, and had the chill of a fever. Later, as he watched the starkly different structure being added to the classical edifice, he felt well and basked in the warm sunshine. Yes! He declared, the Future is so much better than the past! My point? Past Present and Future are seen as One by some people. In any case, they stand or fall on their own merit, unaffected by the internal struggles of the observer.

    • Eric, you raise some very good points. I think it’s easy to over-personalize anything. Our views of the past (or really of anyone or anything) are tinted and sometimes tainted by emotions that are linked in our minds. There is a restaurant in Hawaii we went to and Drew got really sick afterward. Since we ate mostly the same thing and none of the rest of us got sick, it seemed unlikely that it was something he ate. But he never, ever wanted to go to that restaurant again, which I can understand. But despite the error of over-personalizing things, there’s one sense in which the past, present or future can never be totally objective, because they exist primarily in our minds, or as documented by someone else’s impressions. Even something seemingly objective such as carbon dating is subject to interpretation and error. When it comes to events, you can get as many different interpretations and accounts as there are people. Probably the best we can do is to remain aware that there is no way to be totally objective about our memories of the past or anxieties for the future. That might help to alleviate some of our unproductive ruminations.

  4. Words of meaning Julia that hit the mark exactly. Every day is a brand new canvas never let your failures or your past stop you from painting a beautiful picture today :o)……

    • Patrica, so true – and even after we start on that new canvas, we can always paint over our mistakes, even if traces of them still show through. Each day is a work in progress, and life is a huge masterwork, always in progress. While that thought can be tiring sometimes 😀 it is also reassuring!

  5. I love your opening line…so true in life. We do lead our destiny.

    • Thank you! It’s a fine line to walk, learning to let go of the illusion of control, while maintaining the faith that we can make a real difference in each minute of each day, regardless of what may be out of our hands.

  6. Sheila

    Julia I’m, thinking back on some troubling times that we’ve shared in these months here. You’ve been such a strength and inspiration to me. Yet, you’ve said the same of me! I remember sharing one of my favorite comments that I say often, “Make it happen!” and you loved it. You’ve said a gazillion things that I love. Then there’s always,”Walking on Sunshine”. 🙂 Good morning to Matt, my marvelous hero.

    • Thank you Sheila. It is interesting, all the parallels in our lives. And yes, you have been a great source of strength and encouragement to me. I must remember “make it happen” when we get out of this hospital limbo. I tend to get stuck in “hope it happens” or even “let it happen.” Here’s hoping we will all be “walking on sunshine” soon! Matt sends his greetings.

  7. Looking ahead is a lot better. But I must admit I spend a lot more time in the past than in the present or the future. Must change the habit to make my life more fruitful and enjoyable.

    • I have the same problem, especially when I go to clean out my closet and get lost in the old letters, photographs and memorabilia. It’s easy to do that but maybe we can encourage each other to look ahead a bit more! Thanks for being here.

  8. Carlyle

    Julia,
    Eric’s remark that some people regard past present and future as One, I thought, perhaps erroneously. that he referred to my vision of the old man who said to me, ” the answer to your question is that past, present and future are not separate: they co-exist.” For me, this does much to add to my understanding of the nature of God; that is, His knowledge of past present and future as one from the beginning.

    • Daddy, I had the same thought about Eric’s remark. I agree, though, that there’s a big difference in saying the past, present and future co-exist, and saying they are one. To co-exist implies distinct boundaries between more than one thing, not an amalgamation of things into one. I remember your explaining this idea about time to me years ago when I was fairly young and asked you about free will and God’s foreknowledge, or what some think of as predestination; how could we truly have free will if God already knew what was to come? You drew a timeline and said that those of us who are living on the time line can look backward, and possibly a little bit forward, but only to a limited degree based on where we are on the timeline, but God looks down on it from above, as it were, and sees the entire thing at once – hence, from the standpoint of God and/or eternity, every moment in time does co-exist. I think that Einstein’s theory of relativity touches on this same concept. The really interesting upshot of all this (to me anyway) is that this would mean that time travel is possible at least in theory. When Drew said farewell to his James Avenue church family, he reminded them “eternity is not something in the future, it has already begun.”

  9. Amy

    On the radio this morning they asked if you prefer the new technology or things of the past. Hands down things of the past won out. People said record albums, drive-ins and corded phones. I was impressed. Hope and pray all is well. Love to the boys. A

    • Wow, that surprises me! And to be totally honest, I’m not sure I could say the same. I’ve never understood the preference some people claim to have for vinyl over digital music (I’ve got plenty of vinyl I’ll gladly sell to the highest bidder) because those scratches and pops just don’t add anything to the sound, except maybe nostalgia, which I do admit I have in abundance. I don’t miss corded phones at all! Except maybe during a power outage. Things are much better tonight. We hope he has turned a corner and will be home soon.

  10. Julia, hello. hope Matt is feeling better this evening. I know if he is , you will be.
    Recently, sorting through some of my old journals…I had wrote about a crisis my daughter was going through…reading it brought it all back…the pain, disappointment…the tears
    At times, it is best to let go of the past and live in the present.
    Enjoy your evening, especially if Matt is going home this week-end. 🙂

    • Merry, you got it exactly right; he is better, so I am better. I realized years ago that my sense of well-being was directly tied to his, and I’ve never been able to completely get free of that. Matt will be able to go home Sunday at the earliest, since his chest tubes are still not disconnected and he will need to be here for 24 hours after they remove them.

      Re: painful memories – I have a ton of stuff I would probably be better off not saving (particularly the documentation of hurtful incidents from Matt’s school years) and probably need to shred a lot of it, or burn it. As you say, reading it just causes us to re-live it, and I’m not sure that serves any purpose. For some reason, though, I still find it hard to part with such things. It’s all flotsam and jetsam from the storms of our lives, and for better or worse, it feels as if it’s part of who I am. I have considered packing it all away in a box where it’s inaccessible for awhile, and then maybe I will be able to get rid of it. But I agree with you that I do need to let go of it.

  11. I believe we must first understand our past to be able to be free of it. Once that work is done then we are able to truly be in the present and this is where choices, free of past influences, can be made. Next we must give up on blame and shame and learn to take responsibility for how we respond to the events of our lives – and trust that these events occur for a reason….. In my life I have found that the worst and most awful events have left me rich beyond measure in ways I could never have come to had those events not burned away the dross! I believe we are here to learn how to be truly human, to learn how to love and forgive and just be here for each other. It is not about things and stuff and more things and more stuff, it is about how we love and support and share ourselves with everyone else in our world. This is just what my life has taught me. xoxo

    • I agree, Pauline! I think when we haven’t come to terms with our past, we will often chase the “more things and more stuff” without realizing more will never be enough until we understand how we got to where we are. As you say, that can be a very liberating thing. Then we are able to move in a positive direction. I think you have learned the same lessons I have. ❤

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