These words usually indicate that a story involving regrets and mistakes is about to follow. When working in the emergency department, we would say that the most common words spoken before a trauma was “Hey y’all, watch this!” When they woke up, I am sure they would think something along these lines. “In retrospect, jumping on my trampoline from the roof was a bad idea.” “In retrospect, I should have remembered the road at the bottom of the hill before I started down on my sled.”
It is said that hindsight is 20/20, and “in retrospect” puts that hindsight into crisp clarity. I used these words in the early afternoon of January 16th.
“In retrospect, we probably should have changed our plans when we heard the alarm horn sound from the dam.”
We had been planning this adventure for a couple months. A group of guys, leaders from a local men’s ministry, were going to spend some time together in the great outdoors. Our plan was to navigate through the woods to a fire on the beach. No trails, no phones, just a map and a compass. Along the way we would have to navigate boulders, water, trees, and ridge lines to reach our end point. The purpose of the experience was to develop a deeper relationship with our “battle buddy,” the man we were paired with, as well as apply what we experienced on the hike to our daily walk with God.
We heard the alarm sound as we started off. We watched as the water rose in the normally dry bed of boulders that we had to cross to get to the island. While the men leading the expedition had done this many times, the water had never been running. We decided to forge ahead, and see what happened.
What happened was that the water continued to rise as we tried to ford the bed of boulders. Several groups eventually converged at a middle point in what was now a legitimate river, stuck in our attempts to find a way to cross. We found that backtracking was futile, as the path was now underwater. There was nothing for it but to brace ourselves and jump in the river. We banded together and walked back through waist high water, somehow avoiding any serious injury to body or electronic devices.
Upon our return to the starting point, we lit a fire to warm up. The first group and lead team had made it to the island and now faced the journey back. Those of us who had failed to make the island at all began warming up around a fire, cigars and lunch. We faced the question of “Was it a failure because we didn’t get to our destination?”
We could say we failed because we didn’t get to our goal. On our journey, the fire at the beach was just an arbitrary endpoint. The actual goal of our adventure was to spend time as brothers and with our Father. We accomplished our objective, even if we didn’t reach our destination.
This experience in the outdoors mirrors my experience in life. I might know where I want to go and what I want to do, but I don’t know how to get there. I would walk one way only to discover a dead end, or an impenetrable thicket. I tried many different ways to get to where I thought I was headed, got frustrated when it didn’t go the way I thought it would, and ended up soaking wet.
In life, I have several goals that I have either missed, fallen short, or want to achieve without any idea of how to do that. I experience a complete lack of understanding and total dependency on direction. I find that I need to request guidance every step of the way. I can try different things to be successful and to find what it is that God wants me to do, only to realize I get angry when things don’t turn out the way I thought they would. Life will continue to be frustrating unless I change my definition of success. I need to be dependent on where God is taking me, and not become upset when it’s not where I thought it would be.
The term “In retrospect” usually indicates regret or second thoughts. I’ve used it when things didn’t turn out like I thought they should, and when I wished I had made a different decision at a key moment. Throughout the Bible and our lives, we all have those moments when we are in the middle of a river and don’t know whether to keep pushing forward, go back the way we came, or sit down and wait for a boat.
Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold as a slave and put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. He also became second in command of Egypt and responsible for saving thousands of lives. His version of “In retrospect?” “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20)”
What about Paul? First he persecuted the early church, then was flogged, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and had all kinds of trials. He said “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. (2 Corinthians 12:10)”
We all have our “in retrospect” moments. We regret certain decisions, certain outcomes, and beat ourselves up thinking we will never get it right. Paul also said “God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)” Our mistakes become His opportunity. God takes my weakest moments and turns them into His greatest glory.
In retrospect, I am glad we didn’t listen to the alarm and proceeded with our adventure. I enjoyed spending time with some of my best friends, and knew that our Heavenly Father was watching over us. Next time that I say “In retrospect” when things don’t go as I planned, I can have peace because of the good He has intended through the situation.