Thursday, December 25, 2008

Nostalgia For What We've Never Known

Last night was another one of those times.

I knew He wanted to meet with me.

Last-minute chores done late at night. Excited children finally tucked into bed, dreaming of Christmas morning.

Eagerness to be with Him.

I turned off all of the lights except for the ones on the Christmas tree. The beauty of their twinkling brought tears, and the blurring only made the twinkling more beautiful.

I took off my glasses to keep the effect.Currier & IvesImage by prettywar-stl via Flickr

Oh Father, will there ever be another one like this?

It's not that the tree is particularly beautiful. It's an ordinary plastic tree. It's just that 2009 seems likely to be the year when everything will change. I don't know how drastically altered our lives might be when next Christmas rolls around.

Then again, do we ever really know? We expect things to go on unchanged, but they often don't. So many turns in the road that we never saw coming.

Nostalgia glitters. It reflects off of every familiar ornament, especially the ones that speak of childhood. Romanticized childhood in Victorian garb.

I want to believe that children are innocent and pure, but they aren't. Why are we so eager to overlook reality, to paint children as angelic when we see their sinful natures every day?

Elsewhere on the tree other ornaments catch my eye. Real childhood in the shape of my children's hands, cut out of foam and covered with glitter and inscribed with dates from years gone by.

My children's hands were much smaller then. My heart wants to sigh, "Those were the days."

Except of course they weren't. Reality has no glitter. Why do we convince ourselves that yesterday was better than today, even when we know it isn't true? Even when yesterday came draped in sorrow and grief and pain?
Do not say,
"Why were the former days better than these?"
For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.
(Ecc 7:10)
No, the former days were not better than these, and yet nearly every heart comes equipped with the capacity to take off its glasses and enjoy the beauty that comes with blurring.

Comes equipped...that speaks of design. Why did God design us to be nostalgic? Is there a purpose for this longing for what used to be?

Our Father does not waste His creative efforts. He created us to be nostalgic...not for the good old days of our youth, but for the youth that we never knew. Hard-wired into our DNA is the knowledge that there was a better time...a time when man and woman walked with Him in a garden. A time when they were naked and not ashamed. The childhood of humanity, when all really was innocent.

The blueprint written in our souls tells us what children ought to be, even though we've never met one untouched by sin.

We remember. Our minds have no imprints from Eden, but our souls do.

Sin distorts the memory. It shortens the span of time, attaching the feelings of Eden to the events of our mortal lives, intentionally turning the lens of our hindsight until all goes out of focus. Those were the good old days. They were!

If we deny Eden, we can deny The Fall. If we deny The Fall, we can deny the depth of our pain, deny the chasm between us and Joy, deny the God who would restore us if we would come to Him in His His Son.

No, if the good old days happened in my lifetime, then I can get them back in my lifetime. Paradise comes to those who pretend it. This is the promise of short-sighted nostalgia.

Like so many of sin's distortions, this one is hard to let go of, because we fear we will lose beauty if we do. But no, the true beauty awaits those who let go of illusion and face the stark reality that our hearts' truest longing is for what we have never known, what we can never grasp with mortal hands...if we then bring those longings to the One whose glory wrapped itself in infant skin so long ago.

God grant us the courage to long for what we were meant to long for! To crave innocence...not the kind falsely attributed to some bygone era, but the kind bought for us with the precious blood of the Son of God. To crave intimacy with our Creator, long walks in the garden with Omnipotent Perfection...not mere solitary strolls down memory lane.

It hurts to long for what we do not have, for what we cannot give ourselves. But it's a sweet hurt for those who know the Lord. Because while we do not have all of Him, we have a foretaste, and it is delectable. And we have His promises, promises which cannot fail.

He will give us what we cannot give ourselves. And when He does, we will not need to squint our eyes, or take off our glasses, or pretend anything away. We will, in fact, see more clearly than ever before.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part,
but then I shall know just as I also am known.
1Co 13:12
By all means, look at the beauty of the glittering tree, of the children, of the stars, of a smile, of the past. Enjoy them. Thank God for them. But be sure to look beyond them. Look for that which nostalgia, despite its joys, must always lack.

Nostalgia can promise nothing, give nothing. But it can point its finger to the One who is comforting bread for our hungry spirits, and a fountain of water for our parched souls.

Look again at the infant in the manger, the one who grew to walk Calvary's road, to die Calvary's death, to write death's epitaph.

He does not give the promise we yearn for.

He is the promise we yearn for.

All our nostalgia is but the echo of Adam and Eve's cry as the gates of Eden slammed shut behind them.

Jesus is the door.

He is the Alpha and Omega, who was, and is, and is to come. In Him we own all things, even the past which otherwise would have slipped irrevocably out of our grasp.

I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten. (Joel 2:25)

When all is said and done, it is not the former things of our lives that we long for the most. It is Life that we long for the most.

Jesus said, "I am...the Life!"

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Him! After all, isn't that why his Father arranged for His newborn promise to be swaddled in a feeding trough?

Feast on Him today.


BethL said...

Betsy, This is such an EXCELLENT devotion! Wow! You have so many wonderful thoughts, I especially like the "newborn promise swaddled in a feeding trough" -- "feast on Him". and this, "a sweet hurt for those who know the Lord. Because while we do not have all of Him, we have a foretaste, and it is delectable. And we have His promises, promises which cannot fail." I am blessed by reading this. Thank you Betsy!

Yvonne said...

Wow... you continue to knock me over with your deep insights! I never thought of "nostalgia" being our longing for what the world could have been without sin. I'll have to think about this more. I love it...for I'm a nostalgic person.

Thanks again for a wonderful blog,

Tim Brown said...

This is such a meaningful post to me -- it's been a tough Christmas season although evangelistically it's gone so very well.

So many common thoughts here. The oncoming "changes" and looking back to just three Christmases ago when dad was still here, and of course he is sorely missed. Mom and I were discussing this two days ago. And I'm sure it's especially tough for her because she lost her partner of 68 years.

Add to that, I'm a melancholic sort anyway with an overactive mind and a vivid imagination. Mom forgets something so it must be the onset of some big horrible disease...even though I have no real evidence of that. And because I lost dad, I clutch onto her that much harder.

This post intersects with precisely where I've been struggling lately -- I know that the "good old days" of my youth were also the days when dad was never around. Somehow I don't remember all that. It's the "blurring".

In any case, you make a very Biblical point which is that we do have a "homesickness". It is easy to mislabel it as a homesickness for the "good old days" (that really weren't any better, really). But the Lord wants us to let go of those things and people that we hold in place of Him. No, we don't quit loving them.

But we have to let go of those people and things that replace Him and take the place in our lives that He alone deserves.

Tami Boesiger said...

A very though provoking post, Betsy. I agree our souls long for Eden, though we've never experienced it. Something in us knows life COULD HAVE been better. Something in us is aware this life is not all there is. God's presence and perfection continually woos us.

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