17116240_sI expected to be more emotional. I broke down only once — when I was sharing during the sharing time at the close of the retreat. Last weekend Bernice and I were at the CCF Alumni retreat at Port Dickson. The College and Career Fellowship (CCF) is a ministry to those making the transition between tertiary studies and the working world which I helped start when I was pastor of First Baptist Church, Petaling Jaya many years ago. (I believe it was 1991.) Not long after that my first wife was diagnosed as having end stage lung cancer. She died about a year later. That was the beginning of a very dark chapter in my life.

The CCFers walked with me through that valley. They accepted me. They encouraged me. They allowed me to speak into their lives through my own was in a  shambles. And at a time when I had little personal energy they helped me raise my two boys. They arranged rides for them, they organised birthday parties for them, they took them to the movies, they bought gifts for them, they taught them how to use computers — all without complain, always with joy. Stephen has just received his honours degree from Monash University and Andrew is doing his pre-university studies. I don’t know how I could have raised them without the help of my CCF friends. I was thanking them for their help when I was ambushed by my tears.

I am sure that there were those who were concerned that revisiting the past would be nothing more than a temporary escape into our memories as we recalled a simpler and happier time. Some of the CCF alumni are now ten to fifteen years out of CCF. In their thirties and early forties they struggle with demanding careers in a chaotic world economy. Many have to balance raising young children while caring for aging parents. Some have tough kids. Some wanted kids but couldn’t. Those married struggle with how to make their marriage work and grow. Those still single wonder if they will ever get married. The danger of a temporary escape into nostalgia was there though nostalgia is not necessarily a bad thing. We laughed a lot during the retreat and laughter has its own therapeutic powers.

But there is another reason to look back. We look back, sifting through the concrete details of our lives, so we can learn from them. Wisdom comes from reflecting on our lives in the light of the Scriptures. Indeed it is seeing how God has worked in our personal histories that prevent our faith from being purely conceptual or emotional. God has worked in the history of humankind — in creation, through mighty deeds like the rescue of Israel from Egypt, in the life and teaching of Jesus, and in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Christian faith is one that takes history very seriously. And in reflecting on our own stories in the light of His story, we learn key lessons about life and about God.

So it was very encouraging to hear alumni after alumni share as to how God had blessed them and led them, what lessons they had learnt, and their gratitude to God and to His people. It was heartening that so many were still following their Lord though many had gone through or were growing through challenging circumstances. Whether they realized it or not, their faith had grown through the years. One key lesson emerged — CCF “worked” and were at their best when they gave themselves to two things, a love for the Word and a love for people. CCF took bible study seriously. One of the previous leaders shared how once they wanted to give the fellowship a break from the weekly bible studies and organised a games night. Nobody showed up. People were there for the Word. And one by one, people shared how they found acceptance and care in the fellowship. Here was a key lesson looking back — you can’t go far wrong if you love the Word and if you love people.

Henri Nouwen reminds us that we must follow Christ in the “now.”

The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now. (Making All Things New, San Francisco, CA: Harper and Row, 1981, 21)

And Jesus Himself reminds us to live in the “today” of our lives.

… your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:32b-34 NLT)

And so I exhorted the retreat participants, and myself, to follow Christ in the concrete details of our present lives. We cannot live in the past or in the future. We are to follow Christ in real time. But once in awhile it is good to reflect on our past so that we can find wisdom for the present and faith for the future.