In the October of my sixth-grade year, my family moved across the country from Illinois to the middle of Wyoming. It was the worst experience of my young life.
But what had led to that move had been two years that had been the worst experience of my parents’ lives. Two years of being betrayed, isolated, and lost about what the future would hold made the move to Wyoming a necessary change, although it would take my mom away from her beloved Midwest and family while she tried to wrangle four girls ranging from a newborn to a sullen, devastated 11-year-old.
In hindsight, there are a lot of ways that our move to Wyoming could have gone better for me. There were decisions that could have made it a healthier and more tolerable experience from the beginning. But as an adult with kids of my own, I can now look back on the opportunity that my parents saw and see that it was a necessary transition that eventually blessed my family’s life in multiple ways. While I would love to have changed the circumstances surrounding the need for the move and my experiences during that first year, I’m glad that my family lived in Wyoming for half a decade.
And I needed that adult insight when we made the decision to move our family halfway across the country from a state that our kids now consider home. It’s been difficult on them as they were told that we were turning their lives upside down. It’s been difficult on us as we’ve had to deal with the anger, tears, outbursts, and personal grief of watching our own kids sort through the mess of feelings that they are processing daily.
I have to keep reminding myself that we’re just in the middle of the story right now. Hindsight is currently far out of our reach.
We say that hindsight is 20/20, or at least most of us have heard that on multiple occasions. We say it when we get to the other side of a situation and we are able to see everything that happened before and immediately following an event with fresh and better-informed eyes. It takes what often seems so simple, and complicates it so that the answers we had before are far less black and white than we thought. It removes us from the binary and sets us somewhere in between.
I spend enough time on the road for work and all the mom things that I listen to a lot of podcasts and books. One of the recommendations that I had received from multiple friends was The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, a podcast series published by Christianity Today.
The series is telling the complex history of Mars Hill Church, founded, in part, by Mark Driscoll. As they keep pointing out, there were many good things that happened in the years that Mars Hill existed, but did the good that came out of the church outweigh the spiritual and emotional damage caused during its years of ministry?
It’s just one more example of how hindsight complicates the narrative. True hindsight takes the narrative of many and weaves them together into a flawed tapestry marked by both beautiful images and knots, snags, and stains. And our understanding of an event depends on which part of the cloth we are holding.
As a teenager of the 1990’s, I was fully immersed in the purity movement. I signed a purity pledge, I read the articles and books about Christian dating, and talked with friends about setting limits that would protect our virginity (although if we were honest, not always our virtue). It was a movement encouraged by our parents and youth leaders, adults who were doing their best to protect our hearts, bodies, and minds. They were well-intentioned and I believe they only had our best interests at heart.
But hindsight has taught me that it was so much more complex than that. Well-intentioned preaching about protecting our virtue as part of our walk with Christ led to friends who got married far too soon and saw their marriages fall apart, unhealthy views of sex and male/female roles within marriage, and loss of faith because of the shame associated with an embrace of one’s sexuality. There was both the intention of tremendous good in the movement and lasting harm that a generation of Christians is just now starting to grapple with.
I do not regret that I’ve only had one sexual partner. I don’t even regret that the first time we had sex was on our wedding night. But I do regret that so much of who I was as a Christian, so much of my Christian identity, was tied up in my sexuality.
While my heart breaks as I watch the collapse of Afghanistan on television, I’m struck by just how much hindsight has affected our views and understanding about our longest war. I remember the attacks on September 11. I remember sitting in a college classroom shocked by what I had just heard and sitting in my student teaching classroom watching the news footage during my prep period. I remember fearing that my fiance would be drafted before or shortly after our upcoming wedding. Like many Americans, I wanted revenge for the deaths of my fellow Americans and the loss of security and confidence in our safety.
And while we’ve seen the tremendous good done by our troops, we’ve seen the changes in quality of life for millions of people, we’ve seen girls and women gain a place in society that they never had before, it has also come at a cost. Hindsight has taught us just how complicated the region is, a complicated history that goes back decades and involves not just the United States, but the Soviet Union and Great Britain and so many more interlopers. That hindsight complicates it so that, if we’re honest, none of us have easy answers to what has happened or should happen now or in the future.
While we are years from true hindsight in understanding a global pandemic that we have been living in for over a year and a half, we have learned plenty. We can look back at the shutdowns in the spring of 2020 and understand that many of them were unnecessary and probably harmful while recognizing that staying open was also dependent on widespread compliance with mask mandates. And over the next years and decades, hindsight will continue to show us just how right, and just how wrong, we were about how we handled this pandemic both individually and as a country.
Hindsight, when properly used, can be a tremendous gift. Looking back on my experiences when I was 11 has helped me as I’ve tried to guide my own children through a difficult move, all while seeing the situation with new adult eyes. Understanding the unintentional harm caused by purity culture has helped me consider how I will deal with those same questions and issues as a Christian parent in the 21st century. While our country doesn’t have a great history of learning from our mistakes, I can hope that we will use hindsight to carefully inspect our international entanglements and better plan in the present and future. And I pray that people will look at their experiences during the global pandemic and work to build a better future for not just themselves, but for society at large.
Hindsight can only truly be 20/20 if we are given the necessary space to find the language to describe our grief and our triumphs. It can only truly be 20/20 if we are honest with each other and ourselves about how the experience has, or has not, impacted us. And it can only be truly 20/20 if we stop to listen to the experiences of others.
Because completing that complicated narrative helps us to move forward.