Idolizing The Past aka Misplaced Nostalgia

“It is a dangerous thing to romanticise the past. To drag up old memories from the depths of our hearts and fashion them into something they’re not. We built a mirage from a memory and knelt before it like a false god.”
~ Beau Taplin

“The joy of nostalgia is that you edit the past.”
~ Farina

I wish things could go back to the way they were.

Back to a world without masks,
social distancing,
dividing lines drawn in the sand over petty things,
raised eyebrows over hugs & handshakes,
questions asked & assumptions made,
fear & paranoia,
senseless rage & murder with words

Have you thought those things, lovely humans? Have you, like me, harboured some vague hope that the past is what we really want right now, here in 2021? Have you inwardly shaken your fist at the present, called it names, and sent angry thoughts towards the people in suits who make the rules?

Have you longed for 2019? 2018? Anything but 2020 and what’s come after?

King Solomon heard similar cries in his own day and he answered them point blank, without sparing feelings, setting the record straight with clear honesty & convicting redirection:

“Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning this?”
~ Ecclesiases 7:10

As the Most High said, through Solomon, it’s foolishness to crave the past. To hold it up as if things really were golden sunlight & roses in 2019; when the thought of world-wide lockdowns would have sounded like something out of a dystopian novel.

It’s unwise to reverse the clock, ’cause time doesn’t run backwards. Straight on ’til morning, like the fairytale says. Eyes front, like a solider, facing whatever the Most High sends and not craning our necks back toward a mirage.

‘Cause we don’t live in the past anymore, lovely humans. In fact, we’ve never lived in the past: whatever moment we’re in is the present; that narrow strip of time that we humans set our feet on for a brief moment.

And if we went back, if, through some miracle, we stepped backwards into 2019, I think we’d discover something rather unsettling:
we wouldn’t belong there.

We’d feel incredibly out of place. We, who’ve lived through Quarantine & a virus that strikes fear into the hearts of men.
In 2019, we’d see mask-less faces,
people hugging one another without giving it a second thought,
no pews sectioned off in church,
house parties where people crowded each other’s space & feasted without fear,
weddings where no one was cut from the guest list ’cause of an executive order,
airplanes filled with humans off on Adventures or business trips (though I do suppose business trips are adventures too haha).

And one of two things would happen, lovely humans: we’d envy those 2019-humans or we’d pity them.

We’d envy them their freedom, their wild Laughter, the careless way they’d rush to a hug a close friend they met in the grocery store, the fact that they could organize a get-together on the fly without worrying about counting heads to makes sure they didn’t exceed a limit.

Or we’d pity them. We’d watch them walk past, arms swinging the swing of freedom and we’d think “ahh, if only they knew what was coming;
they wouldn’t be so irritatingly happy,
they’d stock up on toilet paper,
they’d hug everyone in sight a bit longer,
they’d stop complaining about the brother or sister at church that gets under their skin and would just be grateful that they could see their mouth and nose in conversation and not just their eyes,
they’d have all the parties & gatherings they could,
they’d get married now before it became forbidden.”

We’d envy, grow bitter, pity, resent, but we wouldn’t be happy.

And then on our way out of 2019, back into 2021, our noses would smell something foul & we’d look around. And there, in a shadowy corner would lie those awful things that happened to us in 2019:
the fights,
the misunderstandings,
the hurt dealt to us by a loved one,
the financial struggles,
the pain & loss,
the sin that we’d somehow forgotten we struggled with back then.

And we’d shiver & step through the portal, hopefully thankful that we don’t live in 2019 anymore.

“You must not look back, lest the perspective makes no sense.”
~ Jessie Brown ~ Cranford | the BBC television series

We’ve got to learn to live bravely right where our feet are planted. We do our King a great disservice by craning our necks, longing for a place we no longer inhabit. He’s promised to be with us here. now. in the thick of it. in the nitty gritty. in the joy. in the answered prayers. in the triumphs. in the ordinary. in the suffering. in the hot tears of pain as we crawl forwards on our hands & knees thinking we just can’t take it anymore.

We dishonour Him by refusing to be comforted in the present and instead desperately wishing for the past.

The past was not all we make it out to be. As my favourite college professor said in Grad School, the joy of nostalgia is that we edit the past. We crop out the bits that make us twinge and leave the bits that make us smile. And even then, we mis-remember the happy parts.

So we pray, lovely humans. We pray that the Most High will lift this scourge from our land for His glory. We pray that He will end it all.

But we pray for some other things too. We pray for grace, Courage, strength to resist the call of what lies behind. It’s seductive, I know. It tickles our ears, whispers along the all-to-ready-to-yield shards of our sanity.

But it’s twisted. It’s got it all wrong. ‘Cause that ache in our souls, that heart-rending void we carry can only be filled by one thing: Heaven & Home. That call for the past, that homesickness is a sign that we weren’t made for this world.

And let’s be real, even back in 2019, we felt it. Perhaps we weren’t longing for a mask-less society but we longed for old joys, old places with old friends, old times with old hopes, when things weren’t whatever they were in 2019.

And that nostalgia, that tug for the past, is a reminder that the world is out of joint; we’re out of joint, if we’re Christians. Like Spurgeon said, it is good that our souls long for their native air. This world is an Inn, and as with all inns, they never really feel quite right.

So we get confused and search for that thing we’ve lost in the Past, not realizing that we long for is actually the Future. The Substance of the shadow.

So courage, dear-heart, always courage.

May we not allow 2020 & 2021 to derail us. There’s plenty of work to be done here. Plenty of things to steward & attend to. We’re called to glorify Christ wherever we are, whatever our circumstances and that calling hasn’t changed just because we now have to wear fabric across our faces πŸ–€

P.S. My dear friend, Charlotta, sent me a top-notch article a while back on Nostalgia & Christianity and I’ll link it here ’cause it’s excellent!! It’s from The Gospel Coalition and I highly recommend giving it a read πŸ™‚

But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold. ~ Job 23:10
heads up, eyes steady, straight on ’til Morning

| we’re in a War, my friends, and we all need Courage on the Front Lines πŸ–€ |


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