Useless Nostalgia

Here we go. Now we all begin to get back into action after the holiday season. I hope your holiday was enjoyable. What is it about the holiday season where you often find yourself looking back into the past? I loved listening to our classic Bing Crosby White Christmas album where he sings, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Where the tree tops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.” I admit I listened to the album many times throughout the season, while decorating our home, and while making many dinners with our family and friends. Each time I heard the song, and many others popular Christmas tunes, I entered into this hazy nostalgia about the past. Some of my thinking certainly involved actual memories from my childhood and Christmas’s in my past, but it also was heavily influenced by plain old nostalgia which Webster’s dictionary defines as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past.”  What’s funny about a lot of the sentiment is that it’s not even based on my reality. Just take the lyrics from White Christmas. Bing sings, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas just like the ones I used to know” and yet I’ve never, ever had a white Christmas in California so why am I filled with sentiment about it? Bing also sings, “Where the tree tops glisten and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow” and yet nobody I know rides sleighs in the snow anymore and I’m still getting all happy inside about this image in my mind. During the holidays I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about the past, and then starting to re-engineer the past in such a way that I almost wished I could leave my present and go back to the past.

The instant I started to think this way, I remembered this sobering observation by Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes.

“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ for it is not wise to ask such questions.” Ecclesiastes 7: 10

Oops, that is kind of an important reminder. Yes nostalgia can be fun for the imagination, but it just isn’t wise to reside in hazy sentiment and then find yourself really wondering, “Why can’t the present be more like the past?” It is not wise in that it is a waste of emotional focus and energy on something I can no longer influence (the past) when I need to focus that energy on what I can influence (the present). As I leave the holidays season behind I’m reminded that I need, and we all need, to be fully present to our present because our present needs us to be fully engaged in what God is doing in our time now.

About Andy Lewis

Andy is an author, pastor, and musician who lives in Santa Cruz California. Currently he serves as lead pastor at Faith Community Church in Santa Cruz
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