When I was growing up, I went to a church who had the same pastor for almost 40 years. Brother Bobby Smith. He was the kindest, most compassionate man and he was so good at loving people. I was only a teenager when he retired, but I still remember some of the messages he preached. Lately one of them in particular keeps coming back to me, ringing in my ears. It was called, “Remember Lot’s Wife.”
Do you know about Lot’s wife? Lot was in Abraham’s family, and he and his wife lived in Sodom and Gomorrah. God had decided to destroy the city for the amount of evil there, but he agreed to spare Lot’s family. They were to all leave together, go to the place God told them, and they were given one very important instruction: “Hurry, flee for you lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere….” But as they were fleeing to another city, Lot’s wife just couldn’t resist, I guess. She just had to look back, and she turned into a pillar of salt.
When I was a kid, I thought, “Wow, she was an idiot. Why would you do the one thing they told you not to do? You were home free. You were going to be safe. You were guaranteed a fresh start and a new life, and all you had to do was keep your eyes straight ahead, and you couldn’t do it.” I was a judgmental kid, apparently. Now, particularly over the last two years of my life, I’ve learned to have a little sympathy for her.
I’ve had a lot of changes in the past couple of years, Deaths, job changes, friendship changes, church changes….almost nothing in my life has remained the same except my husband, my kids, and my family. I tried, at first, to process it in my thoughts like an adventure. “Look at all these fresh starts you’re getting! It’s like the movies where the girl loses her job and her boyfriend and she moves to a podunk town and finds out that it was her destiny all along. That’s what this is for you.” But as anyone who personally knows me can tell you, that is a huge load of crap. I hate change. Even good change. I struggle with it the way that horses and dogs struggle with being trained and broken. I bang my head against a wall and try to figure out how to make everything that has changed somehow back to the way it was while still moving on. I am the reason why diagnoses like adjustment disorder with anxious mood were included in the DSM V. Every change feels like the end to me. And so, as the time has passed, I’ve gone through the stages of grief— denial that things have changed, anger, bargaining, depression, and then sometimes I crash-land into acceptance and am shocked that I was ever so upset about whatever has happened in the first place because clearly all has turned out as it was intended. Or at least, that’s how I used to process it. Lately the crash-landing into acceptance has been a myth, I think, like chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow or finding a pair of Jimmy Choo’s at GoodWill.
Instead of looking ahead with ideas of fresh starts and joys to come, I have been looking back. Not just a little bit, but a lot. Sometimes that can be helpful, right? You need to look at where you’ve come from and process any mistakes you’ve made and any issues you might need to work through so that when you do get to where you’re supposed to be going, nothing holds you back from the freedom you hoped to attain. I’m not sure that’s the kind of looking back I’ve been doing though. My kind of looking back has been more a type of longing for contentment I’d experienced in the past, and trying to figure out if my best days are behind me or if there really is something to look forward to that is more valuable and satisfying than what I’ve left behind.
I wonder what the motivation was for Lot’s wife when she looked back. Was she remembering good times? Was she homesick? Was she curious about the destruction and longing to know about what was happening to friends and people she loved that she had to leave behind? Was she wondering, like me, if her best days were behind her? Or was she just one of those people who has to do the thing you tell them not to do or die trying? I wish I could ask her. Maybe she and I would be friends. Because here’s the thing— I can’t judge her anymore. I have become Lot’s wife. I’m desperately trying to flee painful situations from the past and enjoy a fresh start, but at the same time the loneliness is so overwhelming and the fear of failure and making mistakes and the angst of what might have been are relentlessly chasing me down, and some days I look back so often it’s as if I’m walking backwards. I wonder if she could feel it when she turned to a pillar of salt. I wonder if she had time to regret her choice to turn and look at where she’d come from.
Any time the present gets overwhelming, we tend to romanticize the past, seeing only the good that was there and forgetting all the times that life was so very difficult that there was a reason we were compelled to move on in the first place. The grass always seems to be greener, right? There’s a reason it’s a cliche to say, “Those were the good old days.” It’s because we all think the old days were better because we survived them, and we saw the good that came from them, and we know that we were (usually) able to see the purpose in our pain and are grateful for the outcome of all the transitions. We forget that there were bad things there too— conflicts, and days of not enough or loneliness where you would give anything to have a friend to confide in.
In my own looking back I’m tempted to forget all of the reasons for all of the decisions I’ve ever made. Every time I make a big decision I end up feeling like I’ve made the wrong choice before there’s even any evidence of outcome. I told My Crazy Lady one time, “I think maybe I made a knee-jerk reaction when I did that,” and she said to me, “No you didn’t. We talked about it. You were careful and thoughtful and you had good reasons. It’s just hard for you to remember them now because things feel so uncertain.” Probably she’s right, but to this day I’m not sure. I would be Lot’s wife. Longing for the past, longing to know the future, letting the present have zero percent of my attention as I try to figure out where I’m going and why it is that I left where I was.
Anyway—back to the sermon—, in Luke 17, Jesus talks about Lot’s wife. He’s talking about the coming of the kingdom, and he’s cautioning the people to remain vigilant and watchful, to keep their attention where it should be focused, and he says, “Remember Lot’s wife!” That’s where Bro. Smith’s sermon came from. Encouraging us to remember what happens when we allow the things going on in our lives and in the world to distract us from our ultimate goal. I see it in myself. It has been taking so much of my attention, this angst about whether or not I’m making the right decisions in my life. I went to talk to my mom about it the other night because I didn’t know what else to do. I told her everything, and I cried, and I tried to figure out if she would tell me I was doing the right things or if I was making huge mistakes. I was trying to figure out what advice she would give me. And all I could think about was, “Remember Lot’s wife.” So I choose to believe this is her advice to me. To press forward, and focus on the future, and trust that whatever has been destroyed by fire and brimstone was meant to perish in the fire, and the things left over are meant for me.
I wonder if, when he was preaching those sermons, Brother Smith knew that in 20 years a girl from his congregation would be encouraged by his words. Probably not. Probably he was just trying to live and say and do what was right, and it was enough, and it did the work that would be needed in the future. And I think my mom was the same way. So do I feel better? Do I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Nope. But I’m going to try to focus my attention straight ahead, minimize distractions, and take each day as it comes. And maybe to remind me, I’ll try to find the Lot and Lot’s wife salt and pepper shakers. And I’m going to try not to be so hard on Mrs. Lot.