It’s a phrase that was born among fighter pilots, as a reminder to beware of enemy aircraft coming up behind them in their “six o’clock” position. Pilots know that it’s not enough to look forward or to the side – it’s also important to look backward, to “check your six.”
I’ve adopted a similar philosophy when I hike, but not for the same reason. I’m not worried about danger behind me, despite my wife’s concern that rattlesnakes might sneak up on me (they don’t do that – right?). I check my six because I don’t want to miss a good picture, and I’ve learned that sometimes the best shots are behind me.
I’ve developed the habit of turning around on the trail every couple hundred yards, and have often had my breath taken away by a field of wildflowers that I might have missed, or the sunlight slanting through oak branches in just the right way. More than once, my glance backward has led me to stop and take what turns out to be one of the best pictures of the hike.
Sabbath rest has allowed me to check my six in another, even more significant way. In times of contemplation, I find myself taking the time to look back on the events of my life and see them from a different angle. Invariably, it is a healthy perspective. It allows me to see God’s handiwork in ways that I missed in the moment.
Cancer seems different when you look back on it. So does grief. Experiences that felt like failures when I went through them years ago can reveal themselves as stepping-stones upon reflection, and some successes of the past show their true, “tainted” colors. Divine fingerprints often become more visible at a distance.
God goes out of His way to remind His people to check their six. He commanded Joshua to build a monument of rocks taken from the dried-up Jordan River, and told the people of Israel to be prepared to explain God’s power to their children who would ask “What do these stones mean to you?” (Joshua 4:6). He built a similar monument for the Church, giving us a meal of bread and wine that would take us back to the cross on a regular basis, a meal which we take “in remembrance” of Christ.
God wants us to check our six. He wants us to look back. He wants us to remember.
But our frenzied lives grant little time for such contemplation. We have things to do, people to see, places to go, and it is all SO very important. If we allow it, life will push us into a forward-looking mode, in which only the immediate present and the future truly matter.
“If we allow it…” We don’t have to allow it. We can take the time to reflect, to remember, to look back on our lives and the lives of others who came before us, especially the One who came before us.
It won’t happen unless we decide to make it happen. We have to build time for such contemplation into our busy lives.
Check your six. You might be surprised at what you see.
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