When God told Lot and his family to leave their city, He gave them specific instructions:
Escape for thy life;
look not behind thee,
neither stay thou in all the plain;
escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.Genesis 19:17
The Hebrew word translated “look” in this passage—nabat (נָבַט)—means more than a casual glance. It means to “look intently at” something, or “by implication, to regard with pleasure, favor or care” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). So God’s instruction, “Look not behind thee,” was about more than the direction of their gaze; it was about their intentions and desires.
The following morning, fire and brimstone fell from heaven, consuming the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot and his wife lost daughters and sons-in-law, who had been unwilling to join them. And Lot also lost his wife, because she “looked back…and…became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland commented on this event:
Apparently what was wrong with Lot’s wife was that she wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back…. It is possible that Lot’s wife looked back with resentment toward the Lord for what He was asking her to leave behind…. So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly. In short, her attachment to the past outweighed her confidence in the future.“‘Remember Lot’s Wife’: Faith Is for the Future,” Brigham Young University Devotional Address, 13 January 2009
After God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, they complained about living conditions in the wilderness and—surprisingly—spoke nostalgically of their former life as slaves: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes” (Numbers 11:4-6). Really? You want to go back to hard bondage under cruel taskmasters because your food is too bland?
Laman and Lemuel also spoke longingly of their former life in Jerusalem:
These many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.1 Nephi 17:21
Would they have actually been happy if they had remained in Jerusalem? Absolutely not. The Lord had commanded them to leave in order to save their lives. But even without an impending Babylonian invasion, I doubt their former lives were quite as stunning as they remembered.
It is so easy to look at the past with rose-colored glasses, to remember the good parts and to conveniently ignore the bad, particularly when our present circumstances aren’t so rosy.
It takes discipline to leave the past behind, but that is what we must do if we are to take full advantage of the present and the future. In the words of Elder Holland, “The past is to be learned from but not lived in” (“‘Remember Lot’s Wife’“).
Today, I will look forward. I will resist the temptation to compare my present circumstances unfavorably with my prior experiences. Instead, I will focus on better days ahead, and will work to make them a reality.