Do you ever get nostalgic for the “good ol’ days”?
The days from yore when you were younger, sprier, more energetic, more spontaneous? Maybe it was where you felt like things were going better. I wonder what God intends for nostalgia? Why is it part of our unique wiring? Why did he give us this desire to dwell on the past? Even if it is just ever so slightly. Maybe it’s not something that God created in us? But instead, something that sin brings out in us? This low-key idolatry in our lives where we desire what we once had.
If we think about it, a lot of sinful behavior stems from such thinking. A young love we left behind could lead an older adult into an extra-marital affair, a young adult might fall back into youthful pleasures to escape the stress of their day-to-day life. I’m not advocating that when we feel nostalgic, we are falling into sin, but I think it is something we need to be careful about. Because what we can end up doing is trying to manufacture something from our past into our present and completely miss out on what God is doing here and now. Let me elaborate.
Have you ever taken students to summer camp? I never went to camp when I was a kid. I didn’t start coming to church until my 20’s so my first experience was as a youth leader. Camp is amazing. I am a firm believer in the camp experience for teens for the sole purpose that it gets them out of their comfort zone and into an environment where they can focus solely on Jesus. (It’s where I met Jordan and the RLTK crew as well). But what I discovered a few years into the camp routine was that we want each camp to be better than the last, and we dwell on those prior experiences when we go to camp. As leaders, we can often see the bigger picture of how God moved at camp, which can be remarkable. But students are more often focused on their own experience with God. Because of this, when that tricky little devil of nostalgia comes along, they can easily find themselves desiring a camp experience that is just like the last one, if not better. But that’s not necessarily how God works.
In our lead-up to camp, the day we leave and the days during, I find myself reminding students regularly that God creates new things, It’s His thing. The same is true for our experiences. When we dwell on the past and try to replicate and manufacture previous experiences into our current ones, we can be losing sight of the amazing things that God is doing at that moment. As leaders of young people, we must stay focused on helping students navigate the here and now. There is a time for nostalgia, but if we let nostalgia for what once was, drive our decisions for how we want things to be, we are selling God short.
As Paul says, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13–14 (ESV, emphasis mine). In our lives, in the ministries we lead, in the people we influence, God has so much for us, more than we can imagine. If we get caught in the comparison or nostalgia trap, we can easily find ourselves missing out.
Cody Kiwaczyk is the youth pastor at Alive Church in Tucson, Arizona.