The Allure of Nostalgia

18 Jul


Photo by cgiraldez on Morgue File.

Nostalgia! It is a wonderful thing! It is so easy to revel in it, to soak in its warm, soothing waters and allow its familiar, calming aroma to fill our nostrils. Our hearts are made merry by its allurements and our minds are at rest in its ease and comfort. There is a satisfaction about it. There is a euphoria that is produced from its pheromones like an hallucinogenic drug.

Yesterday, I reentered my old elementary school. I have been back there several times over the course of my teen and adult life; but, something about yesterday struck me. It was the smell of the classroom. My wife, a teacher of third grade, and I were moving some of her stuff into the new room. As soon as I entered the room, the smell hit me square in the nose. All at once a deluge of memories came rushing back over me.

I had once sat in that very room. I had once, as a student, sat and listened to my teacher. In that very room I had read books, watched my teacher write on the blackboard, ate break at my desk, napped at my desk and wrote sentences with pencil and paper. Some of the furniture was the same as it had been all those years ago. The look of the room was familiar. But, more than anything, it was the smell that transported me back in time.

Back in time, many years ago, seeing faces of people I have not seen in ages. Hearing voices of classmates and teachers from all around that room and hallway. I heard the sounds of school: bells ringing, voices chirping over the intercom, sneakers peeling on tiled floors, whistles, yells, shouts, stomping, stern voices and laughter. I could see the hallway packed full of students. I could hear them.

In that moment, I was there again, a little boy standing in a crowd. A little boy shy and reserved. A little boy who was seeking to find his place in such a crowd.

In some ways, not much has changed!

As you grow older, you find yourself reflecting on those times gone by. You find yourself reminiscing about people and places and events. You find yourself dwelling in a place safe, secure and tidy: a place drenched in the aroma of nostalgia.

I have been thinking a lot about that since yesterday. I have to confess it is easy to do that in my spiritual life as well. It is easy to cling to past victories, past moves and works of God in my life and be satisfied with them. It is safer that way. Nostalgia is just as real and tempting in our spiritual lives as our natural ones.

It is a tempting siren that sings and swoons her way into our hearts and affections. And, if we are not wise, we will find ourselves dashed against her rocks.

I have learned a few things about God over the years; though, I still have far more to learn. I have learned that it is okay to remember the goodness of God in your life. In fact, the bible tells us to do just that. It is right to be thankful for the victories God has won in and through you over the years; such remembrances can give us courage and confidence against present challenges and foes.

But, if we are not careful the past, even with its God ordained victories and mountaintops, can become a temptation to lethargy and apathy. It can lead us to become satisfied−so satisfied that we simply take our seats and kick it into neutral and vegetate.

Maybe God did part the sea for you five years ago, but God is not done working yet! God still has more he wants to do. Maybe you did walk on water when you were 25, but what is God doing in you now?

Remember those times and be thankful for them, but do not imprison yourself in their memories. I am convinced, the longer I live, memories are one of the strongest prisons ever fathomed by humanity.

Something God has taught me that has helped me navigate the fine line between remembering the past as a memorial and confidence for today on the one hand; and of being swallowed up in nostalgia on the other is that the former is focused on God, while the latter is focused on the event itself.

It is much the same way with blessings. If we are not careful we start trusting in the blessings that God provides us and not God, the bless-er, himself.

When we are swarmed under by nostalgia we want to experience and feel the same thing, the same way all over again. We want to relive it in its finest details. But, this is not how God works. Consider God’s miraculous work amongst the children of Israel: twice he moved water (the Reed Sea and the Jordan River) for them to cross over on dry ground; but, he did it differently each time.

What if Israel had said, we want to go back to the Egyptian side of the Reed Sea and have God part the waters again so we can walk through on dry ground a second time! While the miracle itself would have been just as great the second time as the first, they would have been going backwards.

Faith is ever moving forward. Faith is thankful for the past victories, it is grateful for God’s miraculous working in the past; but, its eyes are on the horizon and on what God will do next!

If Israel had been content with the miraculous working of the plagues and would have sat content in that, just think of all they would have missed: the parting of the Sea, the theophany of cloud and fire, the theophany at Sinai, manna from heaven . . . and on and on we could go.

As great as God has been to you and for you in the past, he will be as great or more so in the future. Faith requires us to press onward. It requires us to be active.

One of the biggest hindrances to the Christian life of discipleship is a disproportionate reflection on where you have been, instead of where you are headed.

I have found myself trying to recreate those times. I try to recreate every detail. Yet, even with all my efforts, it is not the same. It is a counterfeit. It leaves me unfulfilled, despondent and unsatisfied.

Do not misunderstand me, I am thankful for God’s many blessings in the past. Again, if we keep God in view, those times can be reaffirming for us as we live in the present and look faithfully to the future. That event, that time or place has so much meaning to me because God was there and at work. While I cannot recreate it, I still have the same God present and active here and now!

It is right to remind ourselves from time to time of all the good things God has done for us and through us in the past. It is also right to ask, what is God up to now? What does God want to do in me and through me today? At this moment? At this time?

Nostalgia with all its charms and safety is a call of regress. The call of Christ is the way of following, the way of one foot in front of the other as we plod along onward and forward.




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