Nostalgia can be a great thing. We can look back, and see the great hours/days/months/years that we lived and be happy about them. This is a great thing. Especially if you look back and see how good God has been to you. It can be wonderful to look back at the good times with family and friends – and this becomes almost as strengthening to those relationships as good times with them now. It’s good to remember the blessings and the people we love.
But nostalgia, like any other thing, can be twisted (by the flesh, the world and the devil) to something harmful. One thing to look at with nostalgia is that these memories live in our minds and came to us first through our faulty senses, our foggy and fleeting emotions and our limited and often narrowly-focused awareness. What I’m trying to say is we don’t always remember things exactly the way they happened, and no one remembers everything that happened. If we’re angry about situation A, and then situation B happens (with situation B not necessarily being a bad situation), we’re more likely to remember situation B with bad feelings, even though situation A was the problem at the time. Also, if we didn’t hear so-and-so say such-and-such (but they did) last time, and then they do say such-and-such this time, that can color things. We can be blinded to so many things that happen because of the other things going on at the time.
One of the ways nostalgia gets twisted is when we start idealizing some previous time in life. This seems to most often happen when we don’t like what’s going on now (whether that “now” means how this conversation with so-and-so is going, how this summer is going, or how this decade is going). Then, we look back to that good time, and compare it to now. This can serve to make us stew over how much we liked it then, and now little we like it now, and that can turn into a bit of a vicious circle, where everything that happens in our current circumstance gets compared to that good circumstance and then, in turn makes us dislike our current circumstance all the more.
An even more twisted thing that can happen with nostalgia is when we compare “then” to “the future”. We all make some assumptions about the future, and future circumstances. But really those are all just that: assumptions. We never know what the future will actually hold. Where nostalgia can get in the way, is when we have that wonderful memory, and a bleak future. This can serve to exacerbate the human tendency to worry.
Nostalgia can get further twisted by letting it not just think about it, but act on it. When we start setting the standard of “how it should be right now” to some nostalgia-derived standard, or when we start planning “how we will make it be” to some nostalgia-derived goal, we can really get into some unrealistic expectations and some bad decisions based on them. Part of the problem is that actually repeating any of your memories is impossible. In part, this is because we all change. Every thing we do, every choice we make, every person we talk to, every experience we have changes us. They might change us in tiny little ways – ways so small that we don’t even notice them, but they change us. New things, ideas and people stretch us, and the same old things, ideas and people make us more comfortable (and somehow they don’t cancel each other out). So even if all the conditions were present to make that memory happen again, we have changed when we go to see it. Even if all the same things happen, we aren’t quite the same people we were when they happened the first time.
So then, if we go about trying to change our “now” to look just like our “back then,” it won’t look just the same. And if we work to change our “what will be” to make it look like our “back then,” it just will fall short too. That’s not to say that we don’t want to take the things that we once had that were good and bring them forward. That’s fine. It’s when we start putting up expectations and getting all bent out of shape when those expectations are not met that we get into trouble. So… celebrate your beautiful memories. Glory in the things that God has done for you. Linger lovingly on the times you had with the people close to you. But know that in the future, as in the present, things will be different from those memories. Probably worse. Hopefully better too. Maybe just a tad different. Maybe radically different (probably both).