“Don’t stumble over something behind you.”
The above quote came from first century Roman philosopher Seneca, who was a prolific writer and philosopher during that time. Although considered a humanist, the early Christian church looked favorably on his writings – most likely due to the moral and ethical framework they provided politicians.
A Stoic, Seneca’s writings revolved around a person’s ethical and moral well-being – most characteristic of which may have been the “Moral Epistles”, or letters, written toward the end of his life. Stoics taught that “virtue (or moral excellence) is the only good” we have as human beings, and that virtue dwells within the soul itself. They also taught that external (temporal) things only provide “material for virtue to act upon“.
The Apostle Paul, a contemporary of Seneca, illustrates virtue in Philippians 4:8-9, where he writes: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”. These are the virtues we should then strive for when acting upon the temporal (external) things of this world that Stoics referred to in their teachings.
We cannot change our past, but all too often our thoughts continue to dwell there, and we continue to stumble over things that end up paralyzing us in the present.
“If only I had done or said something differently.”
“If only I had made better decisions.”
“If only I had reacted better.”
In his Easter homily, Pope Francis, when referring to the painful hours during the Passion, said: “It is the silent night of the disciples who remained numb, paralyzed and uncertain of what to do amid so many painful and disheartening situations.”
I’m sure the disciples during this time were asking themselves if there might have been something they could have done to spare Jesus of the cup he was now drinking from. When it comes to “if only“, Simon Peter and most notably, Judas Iscariot quickly come to mind.
We tend to trip over the regrets of our past, which only eviscerates our motivation for moving forward, and blinds you and I to the opportunities that may lie before us. The Apostle Paul – himself one of the disciples that would have experienced the paralysis and uncertainty referenced by Pope Francis – tells us to forget about the past and strive toward what is ahead.
And that is a lesson I think the apostle and the philosopher would agree on.