Friday, December 19, 2008

Romanticizing the Past

Every fall semester I put in a few extra hours and teach a course at a local community college. One of my favorite ways to begin the semester is to ask each student, "If you could be one age for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?" It never fails: the number of students who choose an age in the past always outweighs both the students who choose an age in the future and those who choose their current age combined.

Most of us will admit to doing this as well. We've looked back at a time in the past and thought, "Wow, I wish I could be (x) years old again!" I think this is especially true for women. When you consider the pressure that the world places upon women to be physically attractive, it is easy for us to look in the mirror and lament the days when we were 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter.

But worse than this, we have a tendency to romanticize the past. Again, everyone has experienced this phenomenon from time to time, but I feel women especially are prone to this temptation because our emotions run very deep. In our hearts, we may still have ties to certain people, places, and things from the past which will tempt us to yearn for that particular time in our lives all over again. The Bible warns us not to fall into this mentality, and provides the reason why:
Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

When we lament "the former days", we are not exercising wisdom. There is a certain seduction that takes place when we start romanticizing the past. When our present situation appears less than fulfilling, we suffer from a selective memory. We choose only to remember that which was good, and forget that which was not so good. Suddenly the past seems so inviting, and we are despairing for "the good old days." We may feel as though we'd give anything to go back to that time in our lives. Our present situation, as well as our future, seems bleak.

I believe this is a tactic of the enemy to destroy our hope. Consider the skewed perspective of the people after the Lord had freed them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, "Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." (Numbers 11:4-6)

These people were not speaking from a place of wisdom. Yes, they had free fish, cucumbers, melons, and the like. But they were slaves! We love to read this account, shake our heads in disbelief, and ask how these people could be so foolish. Yet how many times have we have fallen victim to the very same deception?

The holidays are just around the corner and you're single. Suddenly, you're wishing you were back together with your abusive ex-boyfriend. Or perhaps you are noticing more wrinkles and gray hairs, so you think back on how attractive you were when you were eighteen -- and completely dead in your sins. Maybe you are sick of your job and wish you could go back to a time when you were unemployed -- and homeless. The book of Ecclesiastes is clear: when we think this way, we are not speaking from a place of wisdom. We are deceived into believing utter foolishness.

The reason it is foolish is we are taking our eyes off Christ and focusing instead on circumstances that we falsely believe will bring us happiness if we could just get them back. In Luke 17:32, we are warned to remember Lot's wife. As God spared her from destruction, she grieved the things she was leaving behind. She looked back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. Jesus cautions us that whomever wishes to save his life will lose it. Have you ever lost yourself in trying to hang on to the things of this world that are passing away?

The only time we are ever instructed in scripture to "look to the former days" is when we are commanded to remember the great things God has done for us to bring us out of various trials and difficulties. After considering all God has done, our present should appear far better than our past ever could be!

You have a choice: you can either lament over Yesterday as the Beatles did, or you can rejoice in Tomorrow. Which song best reflects the attitude of a person who has chosen to be not conformed to this world, but transformed, by the renewing of her mind?When we find ourselves longing for the day when we are released from our current circumstances, we can look to the past, or we can look to the future. Looking to the past produces nothing but despair because the past is elusive. We can never get it back. It is completely out of our grasp, forever. But looking to the future gives us hope, because the future is guaranteed to be delivered into our hands. God promises He will not only deliver us from these unpleasant situations, but also from our sin! And He will not stop there. God will take it one step further and deliver us into His own hands. He is preparing a place for us, where we can live with Him forever in eternity.

Our film of the month, Annie, was chosen because the most famous song from this story is a song called "Tomorrow." It may seem foolish to endorse what has been long heralded as a children's song, but this simple song is packed with wisdom. Just thinking about tomorrow will clear away all of the sadness, depression, despair, and hopelessness of today. Contrast that with a song like "Yesterday". After listening to that song, it's no wonder so many people say the Beatles are satanic!

You have a choice: you can either lament over Yesterday as the Beatles did, or you can rejoice in Tomorrow. Which song best reflects the attitude of a person who has chosen to be not conformed to this world, but transformed, by the renewing of her mind? (Romans 12:2).

Praise God, He is coming soon. Perhaps it will be tomorrow!

3 comments:

Betsy Markman said...

Wow, this is so powerful, and something I need to be reminded of daily. Maybe you could give me a phone call every day and remind me? Well, ok, not really, but I NEED this to sink down into my soul.

So good!

I'm glad that our reason for optimism is far better than Annie's. She just had a stubbornly rosy outlook, but we have the unshakable promises of God!

Natasa said...

great post...

Jennifer said...

Betsy, I had to write this one for myself. I have fallen into this mentality a few times in my life. There are some things that I used to have that were really good, that are just not in my life anymore. For instance, I was part of a wonderful ministry for three years, and one day the founder decided to close its doors and move on to other things. My life is not so bad right now, but I find myself wishing I could still be in that ministry. For whatever reason, God was pleased to give and take away, and I need to stop wishing and start accepting. This can only be done in God's strength.