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Windshields and rearview mirrors


Where are we looking these days?

by Chip Hardwick | Presbyterians Today

Driver looking in the rear view mirrorIt makes a big difference how much time we spend looking forward to what’s coming our way, and how much time we spend looking backward at where we’ve been. At least it does in driver’s education. I remember my driver’s ed instructor telling us to look in our rearview mirrors once every two seconds — which seems like bad advice to give to a bunch of literalistic teenagers.

Getting the balance between the windshield and the rearview mirror, though, is critical not just for safe driving, but for life in general. After all, how often do we find ourselves taking in the rear view rather than looking ahead to new possibilities?

As the pandemic rolls on, I bet I’m not the only reader of Presbyterians Today who finds myself longing for the way church used to be. But living faithfully in this season means mastering the time of looking forward and backward.

Isaiah 43:16–21 speaks directly to this balance. In the passage, God first looks backward, reminding the Israelites of the glories of the Exodus. The rear view reassures them of God’s work in the past, even as they struggle to find their way in the exile. But then God quickly shifts to the windshield, reminding them, “Do not remember the former things. I am about to do a new thing!”

Promising rivers to quench the desert, God calls the Israelites to shift their gaze toward the future, where they will find the faithfulness they’ve experienced in the past.

The pandemic has disoriented us, leading to clear parallels to the Israelites’ exile. We can’t practice our faith as we always have. We wonder why God is letting all of this happen.

God invites us, though, to look toward the faithfulness we will find. Like the Israelites, there will be a lot of rebuilding and reconfiguring. Some treasured traditions will fade away, and others will become more compelling than we can imagine now. Can we trust that God will do a new thing in a strange land?

I experienced a taste of this hope this past Christmas Eve. I was looking forward to worshiping with my father at his church as usual. I could look in the rearview mirror and see decades of candle lighting, bell ringing and Gospel proclaiming. But a worsening non-COVID cough kept me home, frustrated I could not join Dad. Then a lightbulb went off. We had an idea. A half-hour before he was to leave for church, we realized he could stay home, and we could join the livestream worship.

It wasn’t the same as being there in person, but it was a new thing. It was our way in the wilderness, and a river in the desert of our disappointed souls. It was meaningful, and certainly better than my missing Christmas Eve worship and his going to church by himself.

The Isaiah passage concludes by proclaiming that God gives us drink, that we might declare God’s praise. That night we turned away from the rear view and looked through the windshield, toward God’s future. And we praised God for the new way forward.

Chip Hardwick is the transitional synod executive of the Synod of the Covenant.

Let’s Discuss

  • When you look through the rearview mirror, what do you see?
  • How will you experience God’s faithfulness as you look through the windshield?
  • What is the most challenging part of shifting your gaze toward the future?

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