I enjoy remembering the good times.
Isn’t that biblical?
God called the Israelites to remember what He had done for them. They were supposed to tell their children how He rescued them from slavery in Egypt.
So what’s the big deal about living in the past? Is there something wrong with that?
As I transition back to the United States from 5 years in Greece, I can be very nostalgic.
If I close my eyes, I can transport myself back to my balcony in Athens. I can hear kids playing outside, smell my neighbors cooking fish, and feel the cool breeze. I can hear motorcycles zooming by. When I open my eyes, I’m back in the U.S. I’m in a new city, sitting at my laptop.
I am grieving. Nostalgia grips me. I have been playing cheesy Greek music in my car. I feel like Greece is a friend I said goodbye to.
In American culture, I sometimes feel out of place. In my new job, I feel insecure and want to prove myself. I feel spiritually weak. So when I read an article asking, “Are you a sentimental Christian?” it got me thinking that I am finding myself more comfortable with life in the past. Spiritually speaking, I feel like I belong to my past and am uncertain about what’s ahead.
Perhaps you can relate. You think to yourself, “If only I was back in ________,” or “I miss how things were before ______”. It’s easy to romanticize challenges and difficulties. Here are some questions to check if you’re idealizing the past in your relationship with God:
- Are you more excited about spiritual conversations you had last summer, than asking someone about what they believe?
- Is it easier to remember a compelling speaker or conference, than remember to read the Bible today?
- Have you found yourself daydreaming about the “good old days” in your spiritual journey?
- Do you feel like God is more distant than He used to be?
What We Miss When Staying in the Past
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes, “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this,” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). It can be easy to long for the former days and minimize challenges.
When I do this, I gloss over the realities of life in Greece, like challenges with teammates, the grind of learning Greek, my cultural foibles, struggles with bureaucracy, and all the boring everyday aspects of life. When I sentimentalize life in Greece, I am drawn more to that country, than the actual anchor of my soul – God Himself.
The same thing happens when you and I romanticize a conference, an activity, or a season of life. We become more drawn to the experience than God Himself. By holding on to Bibles, t-shirts or other mementos from activities we no longer use, we try to stave off loss. So many of us elevate what we got from God or what we did for Him.
“The fact is, having been united with God through Christ, we are invited to experience life with God now,” writes Skye Jethani in the book With, “It is true that we will experience Him most fully when the world and we are completely set free from the malady and malice of sin, but that does not mean we cannot experience God in the present.”
Some of us come to know Christ as our Savior and then rest on that, never to grow in Him again.
I miss Greece for a thousand reasons, and one of them is because I experienced God’s nearness there.
Now I live on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I’m comforted by God being here with me – knowing all about my emotions, anchoring me amid this rocky transition. God allows me to put one foot in front of the other. He’s with me when I go grocery shopping, when I drive on the tollways, and when I don’t smell what the neighbors are cooking.
He still answers prayers. He’s still near. He’s not distant or disparaging. He can handle my sentimentality and invites me to trust Him with what’s ahead.
Is God with us now? Yes. Even in our times of longing for the past? Yes.
Being grounded in reality with God does involve remembering the past. But it also involves knowing Him today. Whether we feel it or not, He is near. In gaining perspective from God about our nostalgia for the past, we can meet God who was there, is here now and will be with us.
As you spot sentimentality, ask yourself:
- Why do I miss that season?
- What was true about God then that is still true today?
- How can I remember that God is with me now?
- Take 2 or 3 minutes to stop what you’re doing and focus your mind on God.
- When you see a reminder of the past, thank God for that place, person or experience.
- Find something new to connect to God where you are now.