Why Moving Forward Requires Turning Back

Why Moving Forward Requires Turning Back February 19, 2019


Time feels like an arrow, released fast and straight and always forward.

Time is a line. A path. A road we can follow in only one way: onward. Time is progress, never regress.

If the hours on a clock are a somewhat arbitrary measurement of time (something impressed upon me this week when I found myself explaining to my kids why traveling across time zones didn’t actually qualify as time travel), the seasons are the natural shape of time. Yet that shape is not a line or a one-way path.

It is a circle.

How can this be?


I felt the circle of the year close in around me this week. Studying my bleak and brown flower garden, the rotten wood of our kitchen porch, and the river of mud that now spotlights our half-completed driveway project, I felt a despair so familiar and so disorienting I would almost call it deja vu. It seems I stood at my kitchen window and felt the very same despair last February.

Why is our home so perpetually unfinished? Why is everything I care for so ugly? Why is life so endlessly messy?

Hopelessness is the tie that binds this particular late-winter with late-winter of one year ago.

Just as astonishment and joy link every spring.

When I take my eyes off the clock and remove them from my dayplanner, it feels as if I have stepped off the conveyor belt of time and into some other, less demanding space. Here, progress and return are two sides of a whole, and memory has much to teach me.


Last February, I felt the weight of a dilapidated barn, a crumbling driveway, and a wide front porch of fast-rotting wood. But over the spring and summer, my husband rebuilt the front porch. In August, with the help of Amish barn builders, we rebuilt our small barn. And just this December, we ripped out old, poorly situated asphalt and laid down gravel just where a new driveway needs to be.

Through memories stirred by late-winter’s hopelessness, I returned to the past and saw progress.

Those of us who aim to cultivate the soil and the soul, must stay in tune with circular time. I realize that now. When I am tempted to despair, I will remember. When hope is hard to grasp, I will look back.

When my arms feel only loss and my eyes see only emptiness, I will remember that when we walk a circular way, every turn in the path is a return.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. Psalm 126:6

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