“Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
IT’S HARD TO REACH FORWARD AND BACKWARD AT THE SAME TIME. Yet I fear that’s the very thing we often try to do. We say we’re reaching forward, but the pull of nostalgia can tug at our hearts so strongly that we catch ourselves trying to make the world like it used to be rather than the way it ought to be, as if “used to be” and “ought to be” were exactly synonymous. The net effect of our exertions in life is often more backward than forward.
Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, and not many folks love it any more than I do. But nostalgia must be handled with care. If we don’t watch out, it can hinder us in our journey toward God. So here are a few tips on enjoying the past in a helpful, healthful way.
(1) Whatever good may have been done previously, today is the only day any new activity can be done. We can enjoy the past, and we can certainly learn from it. But yesterday’s work is already done, and that work won’t suffice for today. Thinking about the past (or anything else, for that matter) can’t be a substitute for action . . . today.
(2) We must learn to be grateful for the past without worshiping it. Having the right attitude toward past, present, and future is a matter of balance. If there are good things about the days gone by, we must love those things neither too little nor too much. Maintaining that balance requires making frequent adjustments.
(3) Even if the past was better than the present in some ways, it is fruitless to wonder why. None of us — not even the philosophers — have enough information to answer the question, “Why is the world changing as it is?” The farmer must stick to seed-sowing and not worry too much why the weather changes as it does.
When we get to wondering “Why were the former days better than these?” we need to understand that the past wasn’t really as wonderful as we remember it. After all, our memories are quite selective, remembering a few pleasant things and forgetting others that weren’t so pleasant. So while the good old days may do our hearts good to ponder, they don’t serve very well as a goal for the future.
“Through the centuries the people have dreamed of a Golden Age and longed for its return, unconscious that they dream of a day that has never been” (Guy E. Shipler).