Looking back is not always beneficial, and at times it retards, rather than helps the growth of the soul. But there are times—epochs in life—when we are suddenly brought to a stand-still, it may be by some great disappointment or calamity, and we are suddenly brought face to face with ourselves, and then we are compelled, we scarcely know why, to look back. And what a picture we see as we review the years that lie behind us! What tears we wept here, and how our hearts ached there, what mistakes we made here, and blunders there. How the unkind words, and thoughts, and deeds stand out in inky darkness, like black milestones to mark the way. We can almost feel again the bitterness of that experience, the shame and chagrin of another. We mark how crushed we felt on one occasion, how humiliated on another; and we, maybe, condoled with our poor hearts, and remembered that we had been taught from our earliest years, that life was all sorrow, that this world was a "howling wilderness," a " vale of tears," a "weary journey to the grave," and we often sang around the family altar, or in the church on Sunday:
Burdened, and sick, and faint?
To whom should I my troubles show
And pour out my complaint?
—Charles Wesley in "Ah! Whither Should I Go?"
A few more seasons come,
And we shall be with those that rest,
Asleep within the tomb.
—Horatius Bonar in "A Few More Years Shall Roll"
And we set ourselves to go through with it, for were not tears, and sorrows, and trials, and heartaches the heritage of man, the chastening of Providence? And some went so far as to tell us—a special mark of Divine favor. And we sighed, and wearily turned around to face the future once more, with the shadow and the chill upon our hearts. And so we journeyed on amid tears with occasional smiles, storms with occasional calm, shadows with rare glimpses of sunshine. But Reason came and walked by our side one day, and shed the light of his lamp across life’s pathway, and once more we were called to halt and look back, and this time we not only looked back but we also looked within. And then came the "Soul’s Awakening," for there, in our hearts, we found the cause of all our sorrows, and that cause was Self. We saw that we ourselves had caused our own tears to flow, that we ourselves had, in our own ignorance and blindness, marked out the path that made our feet bleed, and our hearts ache. We learnt the lesson of cause and effect, and saw the "Absolute Justice" of the laws of the universe, and we knew that "whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap," that
The outcome of his former living is;
The bygone wrongs bring forth sorrows and woes,
The bygone right breeds bliss.
—Sir Edwin Arnold in The Light of Asia
Yes, we had sown the seeds of selfishness in the past that had produced all our sorrows, and griefs, and tears. They were but the harvest of our own thoughts, words and deeds, the outcome of all we were in ourselves. And in that moment we leaped to our feet as one from whom iron chains had been riven, and we shouted aloud in our new found knowledge, for we knew that as we had the power to sow what seed we chose, and that as we had sown tears, sorrow, grief, and disappointments for ourselves by our own selfishness and ignorance in the past, even so had we the power to sow the seeds of joy, peace, and gladness for future reaping; and a joy such as we had not even dreamed of filled our souls; for had we not the Now, the great eternal Now, and if we must reap what we sow, shall not we sow now seeds of joy, forgiveness, charity, cheerfulness, love, purity? And shall not the future blossom out in flower and fruit from the seed of the Now? Then we saw "the world beautiful;" we saw a shining pathway of light before us up the hills of gladness. We saw the Kingdom of Heaven in the present and not "beyond the tomb." We grew strong in our rejoicing. The world was no longer to us a "vale of tears," for we "returned to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon our heads." It was no longer a "howling wilderness," for the “desert had rejoiced, and blossomed as the rose." We had learnt the meaning of the golden rule, " Do unto others as you would they should do unto you," and we saw that in the keeping of it lay sunshine and happiness. And now we are glad; glad with an eternal gladness, glad with that gladness that is born of knowledge, and that grows deeper and brighter each day; glad because:—
Every day is the world made new.
Ye who are weary of sorrow and sinning,
Here is a beautiful hope for you;
A hope for me, and a hope for you.