We live looking in three directions: backward, around and forward. Time spent facing each direction is useful, but getting stuck in any one of the three can become problematic.
Looking backward is the acknowledgement of history. Everything that has happened in the past influences our individual lives, as well as our families, congregations, businesses, governments and world.
Looking around is honoring the present moment. A deep connection to the present roots us in reality. Time spent being fully here and now is also a way of valuing the people and pets with whom we share life.
Looking forward is envisioning and shaping what’s ahead with intentionality. Rather than perpetually flying by the seat of our pants, we can thoughtfully plan and strategize.
Each direction serves important purposes in the building of a life. Yet there are dangers to spending too much time in any one of the three. Living stuck exclusively looking backward can lead to an unhelpful nostalgic attachment to the past. Living only in the present moment — without any care for the past or future — can lead to a lack of concern for the lived experiences and hopes of other people throughout history. Living only looking ahead can lead to missed opportunities to learn from and value what’s happened in the past.
Congregational anniversaries are a great opportunity to spend time looking in all three directions. Aurora Lutheran Church recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, and I was so grateful to participate.
The church building is on a gravel road a few miles outside Owatonna. As I pulled into a parking spot on the anniversary Sunday, I was greeted by warm smiles and a sea of matching blue T-shirts created for the special day. Church members had a big white tent set up for outdoor worship and a meal. A colorful bounce house was inflated for the kids to enjoy.
There was a healthy amount of looking backward that morning. During the worship service, several former pastors shared reminiscences of their own time in congregational leadership as well as historical tidbits.
In addition to looking backward, members also spent the day looking around at one another, fully savoring the present moment. They shared life updates and enjoyed fellowship.
The people of the church looked forward, too; the future of Aurora was a common topic of discussion. In casual conversations throughout the day, church members dreamed together about what the future might hold and where God might be leading next. As the people of Aurora honored 150 years of existence as a congregation, they made it a point to mention the value of the past, present and future.
In what direction have you been looking lately? Has that approach been useful? If so, keep it up. If not, maybe it’s time for a new perspective. Are there ways you might incorporate time spent facing in your less-frequently used directions?
Give it a try and explore the possibilities that are created when we spend time looking backward, forward and around.
Emily Carson is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website, emilyannecarson.com.