Everything about my body’s movement felt backwards despite my intention to go forwards. Both hands braced on the machine’s railings, I checked my feet: forwards. This specific ramp/resistance setting on the new elliptical at my gym tricks me every time. Trying to make sense of these feelings, I watched as my feet continued, one in front of the other. Reassured, I looked at the monitor but immediately felt like I was going in reverse again. Only my eyes could tell the difference.
I decreased the ramp by one level; my body and mind synced again. I continued, undistracted.
Whether my legs were going forwards or backwards did not affect my workout goal. After all, exercise on a stationary machine is about activity, not direction.
However, I want to move forward – always, in everything. I need to feel like I am making progress. Look ahead, grow up, power through and move toward are phrases I utter to myself. But when company sales decline, three weeks of sickness wrecks my to-do list, the needle on the scale moves to the right, and anxiety-driven habits resurface, a backwards feeling comes on fast, one that can’t be fixed by pressing a button.
Whether we are progressing in life or not, chronological time marches on. Humbled by the truth that earth will continue its orbit regardless of my accomplishments and the logic that backwards is not possible, I find comfort in this:
There must be another way to look at time.
I step out of the shower – my first after the initial three days of mothering sick children – and I feel as if I reemerge into a life that left me behind. My mind is adrift with thoughts like, “How will I ever catch up?” At the same time, I feel an unexpected certainty that I am exactly where I need to be. I imagine God’s view of time, so different than mine. I wonder if it is like the wacky dreams of my sleep, where I am an ageless version of myself, unsurprised by the convergence of friends and strangers from various periods of my life, roaming through impossible landscapes built by subconscious slices of real experiences. Time doesn’t exist in my dreams; only stories do.
Despite my faithful intentions to use time well, the ticking clock can feel more like pressure than opportunity. Dreams offer another way: they show me that the human brain is capable of experiencing time as something other than linear.
I become less sure of my forward-moving need. I become more sure that our timeless God simply sees me whole.
God did not intend for us to wrestle down time in constant pursuit of progress. Nor are we created to disregard our numbered days. There is a middle way: we can choose to step back, to breathe in a big picture view of time, to take it in like a dream, to imagine how God sees it. We will see that our stories are made where long, barren stretches meet transfigured moments. We will be reminded that God is not linear.
Backwards is not possible.