ControlAltDispute's Blog

Prospective Retrospect

Posted on: August 9, 2009

One of the biggest challenges I have as a Christian mediator is to get people to put things in perspective.  Oftentimes, by the time the parties have come to me, their controversy has seemingly eclipsed everything else in their lives.  I have a lot to say about perspective (and at least two more blogs on that in progress already), but today I want to focus on a single phrase you’ve probably never heard before:  Prospective Retrospect.

History and Definition. I first used the phrase “Prospective Retrospect” in my law practice in the late 1980’s.  I was in the middle of counseling a client in my office about a decision presently before him and I was trying to make the point that he needed to look forward into the future and consider how he would one day look back on this decision that he was considering today.  When I heard myself say the phrase, I thought it was rather (accidentally) poetic and I made a “note to self” to consider the phrase further after the meeting.  I have since that time used it many times with others – and with myself as well.[1]

Thoughts. With that history in mind, I give you six thoughts on the usefulness in your own life of “Prospective Retrospect.”

1.  When. My first thought is that we should almost[2] always consciously live our lives in Prospective Retrospect.  In other words, let me suggest that you should almost always make your decisions by looking forward into the future and considering how you will one day look back on the decisions that you are considering today.

2.  Is it Biblical? Over the years, I have decided that the concept is very Biblical, though the exact phrase is not literally present in the Scriptures.  It is implicitly present, however, in several Biblical principles (such as stewardship).  In the end – that is to say at my end – I want God to look back at my life and say “Well Done!”  I am even now looking forward to the future when I want to hear Him say “You were faithful in the past with a little, and now I am presently putting you in charge of even more.”  (cf. Matt. 25:21)

3.  Denying Oneself. I suspect the most common (and least appealing?) manifestation of using this concept will be in the denying of immediate gratification.  The Prospective Retrospect is, after all, a “long term” or “long range” perspective.  It requires that we forgo things we want now because of the desired benefit later.  It may sometimes sound like:  “I’m gonna wish I wouldn’t have spent that, bought that, said that, ate that, fell for that, watched that, listened to that, clicked on that, dated that, tattooed that, etc.

4.  In the light of eternity. To encourage someone to live with Prospective Retrospect is very similar to saying one needs to live his life understanding that his present decisions may well have consequences that are literally eternal.  I remember listening to a professor (R.C. Sproul[3]) in seminary explain the importance of living our lives sub specie aeternitatis – “under the aspect of eternity.”  This thought has many Biblical facets (e.g., it carries with it the idea that our lives are very brief, a “vapor” Phil. 4:14) which are parallel to my thoughts on Prospective Retrospect.

5.  NOT! What Prospective Retrospect is not is seen in the bumper sticker I like:  “Someday we’ll look back on this, laugh nervously, and change the subject!”  The whole point is to be able to look back – even way back – and rejoice!

6.  Application to Christian Mediation. This concept drives a lot of what I do at ControlAltDispute.com.  In the “business” of reconciling and restoring, it is very powerful to be able to have the parties each see their own situations from an eternal perspective.  The wrongs that we perceive and the rights that we demand take on a different quality when we consider how we will look back on them from a mansion in eternity.  Will we not blush at some of what we thought was SO important at the moment?  Do you want to sit there with your friends in Heaven watching an episode on the History Channel (on Bob Barnes’ posited heavenly IMAX screen) about the time when you demanded your rights regarding . . . (you-know-what)?  [Insert emoticon for “cringing” here.]

So what do you think about Prospective Retrospect? (Or, more importantly, someday in the future, how will you look back on what you think about it today?)

  • What is it today that you are considering that will have long-term (even eternal) consequences?
  • With a Prospective Retrospect, how will you now choose to act?
  • Are you storing up for yourself where moth and rust will not destroy?  (Matt. 6:19)

Live it.

— M. Glenn Curran, III, Esquire

____________________________________________

Footnotes.

[1]Many years ago, as Internet search engines such as Yahoo! (and later Google) were coming on the scene, I used these search engines to determine if this phrase had ever been “coined” before.  Initially, I could not find the phrase anywhere (which made me quite pleased with myself, truth be known).  Later, however, it would show up from time to time in an obscure context.  (Even so, by January of 2009, there were only about ten references, most all of them referring to the same four books listed on Amazon.com.)

[2] I have to say “almost” because (1) “always” by itself just seems too much for a mere man to insist upon and (2) it presently strikes me as neurotic to be so obsessed with any single perspective every waking moment so I must leave room for another . . . at least sometimes.

[3]Of course, in my further research on this topic, I find that Sproul at one point seems to gut my admonition to try to see things from an eternal perspective by noting that we are finite and do not even have the ability to see things from an eternal perspective!

“An important slogan in theology is finitum non capax infiniti.  This means that “the finite cannot grasp the infinite.”  The limit of our comprehension is the earthly perspective.  We do not have the ability to see things sub specie aeternitatis – ‘from the eternal perspective.’”

Stubbornly perhaps, I am going to resolve the tension between his quotation and my admonition by noting that it is still laudable to try to see things from this perspective, even if it cannot be done perfectly.  (There are certainly parallels to attempting things which cannot be completed perfectly such as the command to be holy as God is holy.)  I am confident that he would approve of my resolution (noting that Sproul often uses the phrase “right now counts forever!”).

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1 Response to "Prospective Retrospect"

[…] you are doing (preferably before you do/say/write it) and how you are doing it (and practice “prospective retrospect“).  Show the watching world that Christ in you really makes a difference.  Memorize Matthew […]

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