In dreams, I keep looking back to places where I no long belong

by | Jan 8, 2024 | Faith, Family | 6 comments

Looking back to Christmas 1995

For the past several months, I’ve been looking back, dreaming at night about houses where I lived and schools where I worked—mostly, the house where we lived while my children were growing up and the school where I taught for twenty-five years. I seem to be tasked to take care of these former homes and teach the classes I used to teach. But my busy caretaking results in nothing, and I rarely find myself teaching my classes. 

Because I don’t live in those houses anymore. Because I don’t know where my classroom is anymore. Because I no longer belong in those places anymore.

Looking back to where we no longer belong

I read a devotional this past week about an author driving by her childhood home and remembering the hard times. She wrote, “The irony of these periodic “drive-bys” is that I presently have a wonderful life. I remain a strong follower of Jesus Christ. I am surrounded and supported by a body of believers and my current house is calm and serene.” But when life becomes stressful, the emotions and memories from her troubled past come roaring back.  “Thankfully, I am slowly learning how to manage stressful triggers, and my instances of ‘looking back’ are getting farther and farther apart,” she said.

Thankfully, most of my looking back is pleasant. But sometimes I’ve had to make sense of the past before I could move forward. 

Looking back to move forward

In the 2020 movie News of the World, Tom Hanks plays an aging Confederate officer who makes a meager living traveling by horse cart to towns, settlements, and encampments in rural Texas and reading newspaper stories to local residents for a small fee. In a series of events, he becomes responsible for a child who has been twice orphaned, losing her birth family to the Kiowa and her Kiowa family to the Army. As the two travel along, Hanks gives his charge some advice: “Stay on the road, the path, the ‘line,’ and don’t look back.” 

But looking back in precisely what Hanks’ character needs to do. To heal past wounds in order to move forward. It’s staying in the past that’s problematic. 

Looking back like Lot’s wife

I think about Lot’s wife. In her willful disobedience, she gazed where she no longer belonged, and her life ended. One can only speculate as to why she defied the instructions to not look back.

Some theological commentators agree she was looking back with a longing to return. That’s why Lot’s wife is used as an example of people who are too attached to their old lives. Maybe she looked back in regret for what she was losing: the physical goods and her unregenerate life. 

Why am I looking back?

I fully realize that my “old house” dreams are not about the house per se but about who I was when I lived there. What am I doing in those houses? Repairing, cleaning up messes, doing maintenance. Last night, I dreamed about mopping up water and washing dishes in my childhood homeWhat am I trying to fix?

Everything in dreams—from what we’re doing and where—is symbolic. What in my life now needs attention and focus? Is it really as simple as the fact that I’ve taken over the housecleaning again, and today I’m going to clean the kitchen counters and cabinets?

Ursuline Academy of Dallas

My looking back to my teaching days feel sepia tinted with nostalgia, some regrets—I’m a perfectionist and was less than a perfect teacher—and considerable relief that I’m not tasked with that huge responsibility anymore. I do not long for the past or wish to revisit those routines, but maybe there’s a small sense of some unfinished business. Mostly, I think these “looking back” dreams represent my need to let go and move forward. Because if I don’t, I will be like Lot’s wife.

And so, I pray. Lord, help me manage stress and be grateful for the past, even the troubled times. And, if it is Your will, let me live a regenerated life, in the present.


  1. Julie Dittlinger Vrla Class od 1991

    You were an amazing teacher, and one I think of often. You formed in me a strong work ethic, a desire for diligent study, and a pathway to appreciate art, our country, and the world. A few years ago, I visited Ursuline and made a point to see the places that held my memories. Your classroom is still there (albeit a graphic design classroom now, I think), and I stood there for a moment, remembering and being thankful. And now I thank you for all you have taught me and all your students.

    • Carole Duff

      Dear Julie,
      Thank you for your kind words and the blessing they contain.
      I would love to know what you are doing now. If you are willing to share, please contact me via this website, and I’ll get back to you.

  2. Linda

    God shows me a lot of things in my dreams. I have had to start journaling. We do have to let go of the past so that we can embrace what God is preparing for us to walk into tomorrow. Sometimes dreams like that are showing us what He is concerned about or preparing to do. He is repairing, cleaning up messes, doing maintenance in His house, the Church… we are in desperate need of it. When we look at it that way, we pray into what we see Him doing, and we notice ways we can join Him. 🙂

    • Carole Duff

      Such wisdom, Linda, and thank you for sharing! -C.D.

  3. bigskybuckeye

    As my years add up, there are times when I take a look back. Such moments are more for reflection as I look forward to winter transitioning into spring. I’m anxious to put my new camera to work. As I’ve matured, God’s wisdom has taught me to remain patient. Blessings to you Carole for sharing these encouraging words.

    • Carole Duff

      Dear Richard,

      Thank you for your encouragement, I can’t wait to see your photographs!



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