The Most Dangerous Place to Live

The Subtle Perils of the Past

God does not mean for our hearts to live in yesterday. He gives us fresh mercies each day to enjoy (Lamentations 3:22–23). But passing these, we can travel back in our minds to relive that season’s happiness. Yesterday, hopes were high and life was worth living. Today proves too disappointing. So, with glazed eyes and depressed souls, we become the here-less scarecrows of our former selves who increasingly diminish from the here and now to escape to better days. Our hearts may still beat, but we have stopped living.

 

While the past is an exquisite place to visit, it is a menacing place to live.

The embittered wife, annoyed that the husband she married is not the boyfriend she once dated; the overbearing father desperate to relive his athletic career through his son; the young adult missing her college freedoms and friends, dreading her nine-to-five; the despondent Christian, longing to go back to the zeal he once had, all show us that few things threaten today like the joys of yesterday. Laughter abounded once. The family was united for a time. We were beautiful then.

But God does not mean for our hearts to live in yesterday. He gives us fresh mercies each day to enjoy (Lamentations 3:22–23). But passing these, we can travel back in our minds to relive that season’s happiness. Yesterday, hopes were high and life was worth living. Today proves too disappointing. So, with glazed eyes and depressed souls, we become the here-less scarecrows of our former selves who increasingly diminish from the here and now to escape to better days. Our hearts may still beat, but we have stopped living.

When former blessings decay present gratitude; when God gave that job, that boyfriend, that success — and life afterward is worse for it; when we have become tart creatures that begrudge the fall because we once enjoyed spring; when we sigh through our days and retreat into our memories; we have left the safe path. Driving forward while staring into the rearview mirror, we have made the previous experiences a kind of god. And, unfailingly, when we kneel before the past, the present becomes a curse.

What’s Wrong with Nostalgia?

We call it dwelling in the past.

Considered a psychological disorder from the seventeenth century until only recently, nostalgia is the longing for the past which is seen as better than the present or future. From the Greek, nostos (to return home) and algos (pain), nostalgia is acute homesickness for days gone by. It escapes from present unhappiness (or boredom) into what was and cannot be again.

And as nostalgia lusts after that season we expected to last much longer, the question that wisdom never asks threatens to creep into our hearts,

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Wisdom, an inquisitor of many questions, gasps when this one is uttered. This is nostalgia’s question. But why not ask it?

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