It’s natural to remember the past with fondness. We wistfully think back to earlier times when life seemed simpler, full of promise and possibility. It’s important to cherish the memories of special times in our lives, but there’s a danger in lingering over them with angst. If we begin to yearn too much for the past, to wish to return to it or relive it, we risk missing the joys and opportunities of the present.
I’ll give you a personal example. My wife and I were part of a very small, very intimate, house church, during our university years. It consisted of people from different ages and stations of life. What we shared—what united us in all our diversity—was profound brokenness: almost every person suffered personal tragedy, or was recovering from serious addictions. It was an authentic, exciting, raw, and transformative experience. In fact, it was the source of several lifelong relationships. But, like all mountain-top experiences, it eventually came to an end and we moved on.
For many years several former members felt disillusioned because they couldn’t find a church that replicated the same intimacy and community. Nothing approximated our experience of togetherness during that time. Because they longed to recreate the experience, they wouldn’t accept new opportunities for fellowship that were before them. They weren’t ready to let go of the past.
We can’t spend our life chasing after Camelot experiences: the special, magical, almost mythological moments in our past. If we transported them into the present they would disappear before our eyes. Why? First, we tend to idealize and romanticize the past. We remember the high points, but forget the valleys. All moments in life have difficulties and the past was no exception. Second, we cannot recreate the past. What worked then, won’t work now, because everything changes: we change, others change, and our circumstances change. The past belongs to a different time and place, not to the present.
Rather than trying to replicate past experiences, we should be open to new experiences. Eventually my wife and I attended other wonderful churches that resulted in new lifelong friendships, but they were never the same experience. We learned not to expect new situations to mirror past ones and not to try to recreate the past in current circumstances. You may have fond memories of high school, for example. That’s great! Cherish those memories, but don’t try to relive the “glory years” of high school, university, or any other peak moments in your life, because you’re chasing a vapor that will vanish the moment you try to grasp it. Embrace the present. Look forward. Open yourself to new experiences. Your best days lie ahead.