Living Between Nostalgia and Now

Cups of cappuccino sit on a table during the World Coffee Conference in Guatemala CityHaunted by nostalgia in the wee hours of the morning leaves me wanting coffee at 3 am. The memory of the past can be a great ally or a debilitating foe. It can cause us to celebrate what has been and remind us of great truths. It can also cause us to live in yesterday without taking full advantage of the moments and relationship before us at present. Balancing the value of the past with the significance of the present is never easy. Christian are in a place fit to navigate the path between the two.

At this hour memories feels less valuable than they might be otherwise. It’s 3 A.M. But I recognize that what I am reflecting on is itself a good thing. There’s joy in remembering joyful events. There’s sweetness in smiling faces. The relationships pictured in my mind remind me often of great truths. They remind me that I am loved, especially when I feel alone. They remind me that people can be wonderful, especially when I am confronted with the horrors of humanity. They remind me of how invaluable relationships are, especially when I am inclined to isolation. They remind me that God blesses us with each other. They remind me that goodness and mercy do indeed follow me (Psalm 23:6). They remind me of grace, of glory, of the gospel. These memories serve a great purpose in my life.

I think back to my last Sunday at Revolution. I was so excited to be moving to Cornerstone and taking this position. I love working at CBC and I love this community of believers. But I think back to that night. To my parting words. To the faces of friends and loved ones. I think back to their tears, hugs, and thanks. I am reminded to pray for them now. I am reminded of how much I love these people who I don’t see on a regular basis anymore. I am thankful to the Lord for how He used so many of them to help me grow. These memories are dear and sweet to me. The memories are like proxy friends in the absence of actual loved ones.

At 3 AM I am, however, aware of how baleful nostalgia can be. At the moment it is keeping me from much-needed sleep. But one could, conceivably live in the memory of the past. I could be so consumed with these previous joys that I fail to create new ones. I could be so enamored with the memory of past friends that I fail to do life with new ones. If I do this I will breed discontentment in my own heart. I will compare every new relationship to these ones I crafted over years. I will find them lacking. I will find them discouraging. “Why can’t I have with this person what I had with those people?” The truth of course is that over time, due to distance, even what I had with “those people” will change. The ghosts of what we knew will linger, but the reality of time will alter the nature of our present relationships. I love my friends. But I know that over time we will have less deep connections. Our friendship will eventually grow to be more of a relationship of “remember when,” and less of a relationship of “right now.” I need to invest, then, in the quality people God has brought into my life now. I need to work to cultivate genuine communion with them. I need to know them and be known by them.  If I linger too long in yesterday then today will pass me by.

We should not dismiss nostalgia. It’s not all bad. It’s significant and important. But neither should I discredit the present. Christians understand the importance of this balance. We value the past. It was, after all, in the past that our salvation was secured. Ours is a faith of what happened yesterday, 2,000 yesterdays ago. We love the past, celebrate it, and let it inform our present. But we also live in the present. Our life is about living for the glory of God now, about experiencing His grace and His friendship in real-time. Christians can balance the past and the present perhaps better than any other, because we understand the value and significance of both. The gospel is about both then and now.

When I stop and think about the deep relationships that I have had over the years I feel particularly blessed of God. I had a wonderful group of friends in high school. Most of them I don’t keep in touch with anymore, but I cherish the memory of our connections. I had wonderful friends in seminary, who shaped and influenced me greatly. Our few short years together do not lessen the value they have in my life. I had the best friends the five years I lived in Ohio. It took us a while to really connect, but their friendship has been one of the most tremendous blessings of my life. I would not be who I am without these people. I love too the people whom God has brought into my life now. I don’t know them as well, but already they have helped to bear heavy burdens, carry me along, encourage, support, and challenge me. Already they have served to prove God’s grace again. Friendship is a priceless gift of God. Christians, perhaps better than anyone else, can navigate the tricky path between past and present friendships well. It can be hard, especially at this hour, but it is worth the effort.

This post is brought to you in part by memories…and coffee at 3 AM.

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