Thursday, December 4, 2014

Push On

I gave no thought to what lies behind but push on to what is ahead …
All of us who are spiritually mature must have this attitude …
It is important that we continue on our course,
no matter what stage we have reached.
Phil 3:14-16
Those words of St Paul’s letter struck a chord with me, and I recalled some words I have been hearing lately from a number of my friends.  In summary, they seemed to be saying: “I’m stuck.”  They are stuck in thoughts of their yesterdays which haunt their todays, and time seems to have stopped for them.
For some it was a grievous sin they recall, for which God may have forgiven them, but they can’t forgive themselves.  For others it was a failure --- real or imagined I do not know, because they told me how others didn’t view their lapse as a failure … but they did.  And it didn’t seem to matter who they had failed:  some said their spouse, others their children, another said his parent, and one said he failed himself.  Regardless, they all thought:  “How could I do THAT (or fail to do that) to THAT PERSON, “that person” being someone whom they regarded as most important.  And in their failure, in their guilt, they were “stuck.”
If I offered any thoughts at all to my friends, it was to leave the past in the past, but live today for a better tomorrow.  The topic of Confession and forgiveness may also have come up.  But guilt is a sharp arrow, and it pierces deeply into the heart, and it is hard to pull it out and let the healing begin.  And I know some of them walked away no less sad after our conversation.
I guess that’s why St. Paul’s quote caught my attention.  He gives “no thought to what lies behind …”  This is the man who is regarded as killing St. Stephen, the first martyr.  And how many others did Paul (then called Saul) kill?  And how many more was he planning on killing … when he was thrown from his horse and blinded by God?  At that moment and afterwards, when he could no longer deny the evils --- the MURDERS --- that he had done, what guilt must Saul have felt?  And while in our guilt we may choose to ignore God and wallow in self-pity, Saul had no such option.  Jesus appeared right in front of him.  Guilt was like a huge spear in HIS heart, that’s what Saul must have felt.
And so when he was thrown to the ground, and when he realized the greatness of his sins, why didn’t Saul just not bother to get up?  Why didn’t he contemplate suicide, or yell to his contemporaries:  “Please!  Kill me!”  If anyone should have EVER felt paralyzing guilt, surely Saul did.
I think the answer lies in those further words of Paul’s letter:  those “who are spiritually mature” must push on.  “It is important we continue our course, no matter what stage we have reached.”
With Saul’s being thrown from his horse, while enroute to kill more Christians, a stage of his life was ending.  When he heard Jesus’ voice, he knew his life was changing.  He didn’t know the details of how it was changing, he would learn that, but he knew it was.  He had become more “spiritually mature,” and so Paul pushed on.
Paul tells us we must all push on, “continue our course” of growing in spiritual maturity.  We can’t become “stuck” in our past failures --- or even our past successes!  “No matter what stage we have reached” until our death and union with Jesus in heaven, we must continue, becoming even more spiritually mature. 
How we become more spiritually mature varies for each of us.  For some, Confession and hearing the words of forgiveness are enough for us to “push on.”  For others, reading and meditating on Scripture or spiritual writings, spending more time in prayer, or focusing on helping others enables them to stop focusing on themselves. 
And I guess that’s the key point:  people who are stuck are focusing on themselves, but they don’t realize it.  They think they are focusing on the ones they somehow failed or hurt, but they’re not.  The two Great Commandments were above love, but they weren’t focused on self-love.  People who are “stuck” need to find some humility --- their life is not only about themselves.  Humility has been defined as a “focusing on God’s will, not ours”.  (Jesus, in His model prayer, said:  “Thy will be done.”)  If they truly did fail somehow or someone in the past and it bothers them deeply, they need to seek God’s will and “push on.”   (In His Agony in the Garden Jesus prayed:  “My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me.  Nevertheless, not as I will …” In His pain, Jesus pushed on.)   We need to remember that our life is not about ourselves; its purpose, God’s will for us, is in loving God and others, now and in the future. 
We can’t get on with our life if we can’t walk away from the mirror, focused on ourselves.
Our spiritual journey is filled with ups and downs.  Everyone sins, more or less, but when down, we need to get up.  It’s the only way to advance --- even if it was God Himself who threw us down!  As St. Paul noted, he gives “no thought to what lies behind”, but pushes on to what is ahead.
So must we.  


  1. There are times when past events rear their ugly heads and the remembrance of them causes what may be guilt, but what may be simply God leading us to a fuller realization of what actually happened and the ripple effects of our sin. Perhaps some of the people you spoke to feel a sort of regret, maybe. I like your citing of St. Paul, what he writes, and your reflections on his life, because I think your observations are spot on. I also have wondered how other great saints like Augustine have been able to rise above the memories of full on mortal sin, and get over the shame. Maybe feeling "stuck" in the memory of a past sin is just a place God puts us in for a while where we suddenly have a startling self knowledge of just how deeply our sin hurt others, how deeply sin is rooted in us, which leads us to an increase acceptance of the truth. Because I think there are times we look at ourselves and think, well, I'm a good person: I haven't really done very much evil; I've been pretty good my whole life. We sort of gloss over and brush off any true and deep knowledge of our sinfulness. And maybe those who are deeply troubled by their past and repented failures and sinful actions may be going through a sort of cleansing that may be necessary to become more spiritually mature.

    I have, at times believed this feeling of being stuck, and being unable to "move on" is a sort of purgation. I have thought it comes as a part of spiritual growth, a sort of knowledge that there is no cheap grace; that our sins, our big sins, cost something; cost a lot. And only we and God know which they really are: what may seem trivial to others we may know, in our case, is not trivial to God. Perhaps this sense of being stuck is the Holy Spirit is convicting us and we must tolerate the indictment and accept the sentence (penance).

    The suffering we have caused to others by our sins has a ripple effect. Our sin changed life for someone else in a negative way. Maybe they were less able to cope, or to love, or to succeed, because of our failure to be mindful of what our actions caused, and they in turn maybe hurt others. Our sins of omission often lead to hopelessness in others, and erode faith.

    Jesus died on a cross because of our sins. My sins. And I wonder if a stage of spiritual growth is to have us live, for a while, in our spirit, with the realization that although intellectually we know we are fully forgiven, we suddenly see the magnitude of our offense, and have to live with that.

    I believe you are so right when you say pushing on to spiritual maturity, by acts of faith, hope and charity (as you mention reading Scripture, spending time in prayer, helping others as some ways), what perhaps can be termed penance in a very positive sense, is all we can do. The suffering of remorse is good so long as we don't wallow in it needlessly, pridefully, and forget to keep pushing on, as you have said.

    And lastly, what I find amazing is how Scripture is never empty, or wrung out of meaning. It seems there is always a fresh insight available, just when we need it, if we continue to read it prayerfully. God is always leading us closer and closer to Himself.

    Thanks for this beautiful reflective post.

  2. I' m glad you found peace in this posting, Fran. Unfortunately not everyone did. A dear friend read it personally, in an accusatory manner, seeing me pointing fingers. It wasn't meant to chastise anyone, but open myself and readers to other thoughts. Perhaps at the end of the paragraph about acts of faith, hope and charity I should have added these words:

    "These actions take time. The saying is “time heals all wounds” is true, and it is equally true that just “pushing on” does not --- and wounds DO need healing. The thought here is that waiting and focusing on wounds does not heal them any faster. Perhaps the things I listed here might be considered by some as just distractions, but I think they are aids to opening the soul to God’s graces, inviting Him in to participate in the healing process. "

  3. I'm sorry some read your post and felt badly. That's unfortunate. I know the times when the past will not go away, in spite of repentance, are very painful and uncomfortable for the person going through it. There is not a lot of comfort or solace in that place. It IS difficult. And the written word, well, sometimes it is a clumsy thing when someone is in pain. I'm sorry someone thought your post was hurtful, not comforting, because I can see it was meant to be positive and hopeful.

    One thing is for sure: this state of mind or guilt or regret is not just psychological, as if saying just the right thing, or having an epiphany will make it all disappear. I really believe one must humbly accept that it is a place where God has you right now, and the best help is to ask for release, but acquiesce to God's will if there is none (such as your mention of Jesus in agony in the Garden.) Perhaps the sufferer should realize it is God's action that is happening, and it is best to be docile in the suffering, and be reassured it will end well. The pain is only for a season if you continue to be faithful in spite of it. I think that's all that can be done for them.

    I recall having periods of these sorts of things come and go in my life (and maybe more will be coming in the future) and I would wonder why, since I had repented of these things long ago, confessed them, revised my life, was careful to cultivate prayer and attempt virtue each day, yet, here they would come again, past memories rearing their ugly heads. I would wonder why. Then I began to see it was to deepen my faith, to help me renew my vows of faithfulness to God, to remind me I am capable of grave sin, or sometimes to show me another aspect of the sinfulness I had not really appreciated before. One time it was to have me forgive the whole blasted environment I was in at the time. (I wasn't even aware I needed to do that!) That was the most startling of all! Because as I reflected on the times, places and people I knew at the time, for some reason I all at once said (without really knowing why) 'I forgive all of you, all of it, everyone and everything that happened to me there.' And I felt that forgiveness in my heart. I meant it. And I found release. I found myself able to move on. I knew I was finally done with that part of my life. Thank God for continuing to heal me and work with me years and years after events were over.

    I pray your friends who are suffering in this way may find solace and peace in the arms of Our Suffering Savior.