“Check your heart, not your past.”
I can’t recall the source, but the quote paused me. I remember the context was one of encouragement, as if to say, “No matter what your past involves, you might not be that person anymore. Don’t let your past hold you back. If your heart is motivated by the right things, move forward with boldness and peace.”
But I thought of another context we might not find quite as comforting. “Just because you’ve done some great things doesn’t mean you’re in the best place right now. Check your motivation. Are you being evasive, selfish, manipulative, or even worse? Pause. Your past good won’t carry you. Now matters.”
Coasting rarely works well. Consider driving a car. When you take your foot off the gas pedal, it’s not long before you slow to a crawl, stop all together, or begin to move backward down a hill. Sure, you might have some momentum as you go forward downhill. Don’t even entertain the thought of cruise control. When it comes to your motivations and choices, there is no cruise control. You can slowly spin into destructive thoughts and behaviors, or you can intentionally lean forward into healthy, productive thoughts and behaviors.
The momentum into the unhealthy decline doesn’t seem to have to be very steep. It is so gradual at times that movement is sometimes imperceptible. The momentum into healthy growth rarely feels imperceptible. It doesn’t happen without effort. It is one choice after another, and it is rarely constant. However, as good habits are formed, at least the loss of momentum seems more obvious in the context of forward motion.
I’ve often shared this phenomenon when sharing the experience of spiritual disciplines. For example, when I am in a good routine of Bible reading and studying nearly every day, I miss it on the days I don’t take time for it. There is a noticeable gap. I feel that void on day one and day two. It is less felt on days three and four. Somewhere in the next few days, as I round out a week of gap, I don’t miss the discipline as much. But the reverse takes much longer. When starting or regaining the discipline, it takes at least two or three weeks to form a sound habit, in which I then sense a gap if I miss a day.
The decline takes a lot less effort and time. Sometimes it happens so slowly that we don’t compare a before and after. We simply compare where we were yesterday with where we are today. We don’t notice how far we’ve dipped, especially if there are other areas of our lives that we can rationalize are going well. We’re not as willing to see each area of our life by itself—or the effect it is having on us as a whole. Sometimes we don’t ever look up to see the depths to which we’ve allowed ourselves to slip. Other times, we catch a glimpse and are overwhelmed by the vast difference in altitude and are unsure as to ever making the return climb upward.
It’s not about getting back to where you were. You will learn and experience a lot along the way. You will experience some muscle memory moments that will be more motivating than the last time you climbed. And you will rarely look downward and long for the past in the shadows as much as you’ll yearn for the vantage point as you climb up.
Know where you are and where you’re going. Check your heart. Apathy hurts. Humility helps.