As I walked over the bridge, the view in front of me stopped me in my tracks: the rusty railings lining the steps, the path leading nowhere, the fenced-off area of waste ground ahead of me, abandoned and overgrown. What struck me was the emptiness of it all.
I’m sure people passing by wondered why I was standing there staring, why I had to stop and take a photo of this scene, but it was one of those moments that felt significant, like God had something to say, and I wanted to press in to hear what it was.
The thing is, I had been here before, many times. Back then, what is now the waste ground was the site of my high school. Back then, the path led directly towards the music department. Back then, it looked more like this:
Back then, the music department was my happy place, and music undoubtedly saved me from a lot in high school. This was a place where I felt welcome and valued, that I belonged and I had something to offer. It was where break and lunch times were spent rehearsing, jamming or just chatting. By my final year I think I was in seven different ensembles or choirs so I was often there after school as well, sometimes even before school.
It was a place that held many happy memories: of fun and friendship, of CD recordings and concerts, of triumph and celebrations when, against all the odds, our wind band won a national competition.
I remember it as a place full of joy and full of life, so, even though I knew it had been knocked down and even though this wasn’t the first time I had passed by since then, there was something about coming at it from that angle, over the bridge, right up to the steps that used to lead to the music department, that made the fact that it no longer existed seem very real.
As I tried to listen to what God was saying, it came- just four words:
“The past is gone.”
It sounds obvious, but it made me think. In this case I felt a little sad to know that the place where I had spent so many happy hours was gone, that I could never go back to see it even if I wanted to.
But the day before, I had been to another place associated with memories of the past- a less happy, more painful past- and although the person who caused the pain is gone, and although I wasn’t returning to exactly the same place, it is never easy going back there. Memories and emotions and unanswered questions are stirred every time, and although the situation now is very different, it never feels like the past is completely left behind.
Just seeing the site where the school had been brought it home to me though: the past is gone.
Of course the past will continue to have an impact. We can hold on to happy memories and lessons learned. A lot of the joy I find in music today is down to the foundation that was laid back then, and I am grateful for the legacy of that place and the people there.
Past pain will also continue to have an impact, but it is not something that needs to keep us bound or that we need to fear or give undue power, because the past is gone- it is like a shadow; it has no substance. The reality is today, and God is doing something new!
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
There are advantages in looking back, in reflecting on things that have happened and learning from them, but we can’t live in the past. It is gone!
If we want to move forward, we can’t keep looking back. A glance in the rear view mirror is helpful from time to time, and there may be times when we have to look back in more detail to process and to heal, but if our aim is to move on, our focus has to be on where we are now and on the road ahead. The past is gone; the reality is today.
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
If our trust is in Jesus we are made new and, whatever happened in the past, there is hope, because he walks with us in the present and he came to give us a wonderful future.
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“My lover said to me, “Rise up, my darling! Come away with me, my fair one! Look, the winter is past, and the rains are over and gone. The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air. The fig trees are forming young fruit, and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming. Rise up, my darling! Come away with me, my fair one!”” (Song of Songs 2:10-13 NLT)