Sentiment, Nostalgia…and Grief

If I may process some thoughts aloud… What is it that causes us to cling to our pasts? It even seems that the worst of pasts is still clung to in the high points, perhaps a unique Christmas or a day when a parent was not they’re usual-less-than-good self. What causes us to hold these breakpoints (if you’ll forgive my geek speak) on our past, often to the point of ignoring or denying the bad parts of those same times.

The days leading up to this post have given me time to reflect and an abundance of examples of this kind of nostalgic grief. I’m struck by new buildings on once-beautiful landscapes, old buildings that are (or will someday soon) come down and be replaced by a new building. I’m struck by a grief I can’t explain nor quantify. I’m struck with a grief of “oh, for that time when…”

What is it that allows, even encourages, mankind to have similar experiences? Perhaps we’re just struck by the passage of time? Maybe we miss a time when things seemed similar? Or maybe we are just sad to see what we’re familiar with be replaced with something else?

My personal perspective, after said reflection, is that it’s mostly a loss of that which is familiar, but I believe that’s connected with our desire to go back to a time when we, now, knew what was coming. We don’t like change, and we like the unknown even less, but let me break these ideas down.

First, we don’t like change! We get used to having things a certain way, and we like things that way! Some of us like to change things up, and not being able to change things up is the loss we don’t like (such as being isolated via the COVID madness?). Others of us like things the way we have them, our organization, system, or way of functioning is what we consider optimal, and no one should change that, least not without our explicit permission.

But beyond that, there appears to be an even more sinister reason. When we look back on “simpler times”, we’re looking back on a book that’s been completed. We know how that’s going to work out. We know the beginning, middle, and ending, like a movie we’ve watched before. And, I dare argue, there are times when we prefer the predictable past rather than the unknown of today or the future.

“Well, that’s all well and good, but do you have a suggestion for how we deal with this?” But of course! What good is identifying a problem if you don’t then direct toward a solution?

This grief we feel is both proper and sinful. The proper side is in the reality that we are grieving that life isn’t what it should be; after all, if you’re a Believer, we are citizens of Heaven, ambassadors of reconciliation, sent by the Almighty, and one day, we’ll go to where such change is no longer a problem and is all positive (if there’s any changes at all; I don’t presume to suggest there is or is not change in Heaven)! For now, though, it is ok to grieve, to cry, to pound our chests in pain, crying out, “I hurt, Lord! I hurt!” The Bible, Psalms quite specifically, gives us plenty of encouragement that this kind of realism with the Almighty is ok! And once we see our Savior, all will finally be made right and we will have rest from that which so plagued us on earth.

Hence, the sinful side will be gone. The sinful side of grief is insidious and, by nature, subtle. It is the fact that in this grief, we can begin to grumble and complain about our present circumstance(s). We look back and find ourselves saying, “Why can’t it be like that, God? Why must I go through this?” And, my dear Reader, that’s not the questions we should ask, though it is natural to ask them. We should be honest with ourselves and say, “I didn’t understand, then, how You would see me through, Lord. But I see how You led me then; help me to see how You’re leading me, now!”

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with a choice! Will we be real with God when our pains hit? Will we be willing to be honest with Him as to how our heart aches? And will we be equally honest with ourselves that these precious memories aren’t for us to hold as “perfect” but for us to look upon as Ebenezer stones and say, “thus far, the Lord has led me; He will lead me yet onward”?

My dear Reader, I don’t know where you find yourself in life, but I know that my own life has led to me to places where I could barely breathe and where I wondered if I could get up again. This leads me to weep for those of you who read this, experiencing extreme grief. But whether you are overflowing with tears or are on the other side rejoicing at the end of a trial, I can tell you this, a statement that has always helped me, and which I leave off this post with:

“Tomorrow, the sun will rise again. The power that raised Jesus from the grave will help me rise from my bed; and I will take the next step, and the next, following Him.”

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