This one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind... I press toward the goal of the high calling of God....
- St. Paul, Philippians 3:13-14
A mature friend wears a T-shirt that reads, Id ask you where I put my car keys if I could remember your name, and I laugh. Forgetfulness is supposed to be funny to the Social Security set. I laugh again at the explanation that, We dont forget things because were old, but because our disks are full. I stop laughing, however, when something I wish hadnt happened at all gets stuck on instant replay.
Not long after my son began to drive he totaled his car. Thankfully, he wasnt totaled, too, but he was inconsolable about the car.
I wish I could wake up tomorrow, he said, and find out the accident never happened.
America is expressing the same wish for the morning after Sept. 11. If only someone with a loving heart instead of hatred in their veins had regained control of those planes. If only those who died had been anywhere but in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or on those planes. If only..., the cry on all our lips about something we can neither change nor undo.
The year 2001 wasnt all bad. We had eight months and a week before the towers fell, even longer before our troops began packing duffel bags, brushing up on their combat training and preparing to ship out. But though our men and women in uniform may be able to adopt the power of positive thinking about our national tragedy, its doubtful those directly affected can grasp a bright side to such a comparison. Good times, good relationships and young lives are supposed to last longer than that.
Lest we concentrate all our attention on the 9-11 disaster, we should also note that the year 2001 had fewer than eight months and a week of good times for many more Americans than lost lives or loved ones on that fateful day. For some the loss of family, health, or fortune leaves little to celebrate about the year just past, unless its relief that it is finally over.
I often ponder St. Pauls words about forgetting those things which are behind and pressing on... (Philippians 3:13-14). Sometimes thats all I do - ponder, that is, without managing to let go of the past myself: the careless word, the botched job, the impossible things Im still trying to change. The power of negative thinking, an attitude I know very well.
It must have been hard for Paul to forget, too. Even as he wrote these words he was languishing in a Roman prison, his body scarred from repeated beatings because he dared to share his faith. He was no stranger to pain, and he would be imprisoned several times before his ministry was complete. Yet in these four chapters he uses the words joy or rejoice nearly 20 times. No negative thinking there. If there were sins committed, he knew they were forgiven. If trials occurred in this life, he was confident there would be another life where pain and humiliation couldnt reach.
But there is another element to Pauls forgetting that is usually overshadowed by the usual, negative interpretation of his words. Paul was also telling the Philippians not to rest on their spiritual laurels. He himself, he was careful to tell them, had not attained (3:12) or become perfect. Paul has chosen also to forget (not brag about) the achievements of the past, but to use them as stepping stones to more good works.
No matter how we view the past, whether we consider it a good year or one we would rather forget, Paul seems to be saying, Dont stop now. If there were great tragedies and disappointments, press on. God is with us. If there were joys and achievements, keep pressing on. God is guiding us to achieve more.
Even in prison, even in pain, Paul could say, In whatever circumstance Im in, I have learned to be content (4:11). Even as the father of most of the churches in Asia Minor, he could say, Not that I have attained... I am still pressing on.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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