Every one of us has a story that defines a self, willy-nilly, by each and every moment we have lived. That story is always behind and with us as our present becomes our past and eventually our future – at least as long as the story continues to unfold.

Despite the workings of a creative imagination, our stories can never be changed or undone and belong only and always to us who live them. The power of the stories is that they tell the truth of us and never lie. We may, in telling them, and even in our remembering; but the stories themselves cannot.

Think about it: This very moment holds the entire truth of self. All the moments lived add up to this one. Any self looking back had a responsibility to own the past, to embrace and accept it as one’s truth and in this moment learn from that past if only to make the most of one’s being … and becoming.

Our wholeness is in our history. Please note: I wrote “wholeness,” not “holiness.” Our humanness creates a tale of many mishaps and shortcomings as well as surprises and achievements. There is no better description of one’s past than Thomas Merton’s observation that “God writes straight with crooked lines.” We get to where we are going more often, it seems, on byways rather than highways.

But living forward does not mean living ahead or being there. When we learn to live in the here and now – no simple task – we eventually discover there is no better way of getting to where we want to go. Guilt and depression lurk in the past; anxiety and fear in the future. It is only in every present moment that life happens; that choices can be made. Those choices, however wise or uninformed, inspired or ill-advised, create one’s life and always acknowledge, if not celebrate, the gift of free will.

That is why looking back is so important to living forward. We can make the most of any moment when we learn from our pasts while trying to make the best possible choices for ourselves. Those choices move the present into the past while creating another moment in which to live forward. Living forward in each moment is how we can best create our lives, continuing the journey toward wholeness.