Looking Back

Post Author: Rachel Helgeson



The story of Lot and his family leaving Sodom and Gomorrah always frustrates me. There is one rule that Lot and his family are to follow, demanded from the angels God sent to destroy the city:

Don’t look back.

If you do, they warn, you will be swept up in the impending destruction of the city. And wouldn’t you know it, Lot’s wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt. Maybe she remembered she forgot her passport or wished she could get one more family member to come with them. We will never know….

What I do know is my own frustration and annoyance with the angels’ request. I personally do not consider myself a backward person. But there are moments when I want to look back.

I want to consider these questions: How did I arrive here in this particular place in this particular moment? What was God doing to point my life in this direction?

As I was leaving recently for a professional trip to Roanoke, Virginia, I found myself wanting to look back. I did not want to leave my house. I stared at the car with my husband beckoning me to get in for what seemed like the longest minute. When we eventually arrived at the airport, checked my bags, and I finally went through the security lines, I did not want to leave my husband and my daughter behind. I kept looking back.

Could I still see their faces? Were they still there? Why did I have to leave them behind?

Now don’t get me wrong. This was not a situation where I turned into a pile of salt because I looked back at my family in the airport. Nor were my husband and daughter swept away in the imminent destruction of a city because they did not believe it was going to be destroyed. Last I heard, the city of St. Louis is still standing. The reality was that this was just a professional development trip.

But this makes me wonder. When are there times in your life when you don’t want to let go? When you do not want to move forward? When you want to hold on to something that God explicitly is saying it is time to let go?

For pastors, this need for looking back and holding on can come in the wake of God calling us to a new ministry and letting go of the one we have faithfully served for whatever length of time. We want to pat ourselves on the back for the work we have done and sometimes feel we need to be recognized for it. We don’t want to say good-bye to people we have become close to, people we have baptized, and people we have married, buried, laughed, and cried with. We want to look back.

Recently there have been articles against interim pastors and their ministry. The argument is that the institution of interims is archaic and backwards. But I argue that the reason interims receive a call to this type of ministry is because a variety of pastors and congregations have a hard time moving forward and not looking back. Sometimes pastors continue to live in the neighborhood after retiring. Sometimes pastors try to continue their ministry by coming back for people’s life changing moments. Sometimes congregations continue to grieve for the changing relationship and fear what the future may hold. Interim ministers serve as the angels pulling the congregation out of a cycle of destruction. Sending them to a new place, a different place, and the place where God is calling them next.

So let me pose the same question to you. Where is God sending you? Are you able to move forward in your own life, in your own ministry, in your own call, and not look back at the old one wishing it would return? Can you, like the keepers of Lot and his family, reflect on where God is calling you next instead of turning back and being swept into the abyss of the past? If you are like me, it will frustrate you. It will probably annoy you. But in the end you will be able to move forward into the next place without turning into a pillar of salt.

The Rev. Rachel Helgeson is reconsidering the past, living in the present, looking to the future through God’s eyes. She is Solo Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Mt Vernon, IL, and graduated in 2012 from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Image by: Eric Langley
Used with permission
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