Here's some great insights from Rachel Jones' chapter 4 for those of us who find ourselves saying often: "Where has the last year gone?" - not helped by Facebook telling us each morning "On this day 5 years ago..." or Buzzfeed putting up articles "You know you were born in the 1980s if you recognise...".
“The word nostalgia comes from two Greek words which nicely capture the pull of this emotion: nostos, meaning ‘to return home,’ and algos, meaning ‘pain’… on the one hand there’s warmth and fondness as we remember good times and happy season. But at the same time, there’s a sadness that comes from knowing that those moments now exist only in our memory, and we’ll never get them back again
Rachel perceives that underneath our reminiscing on the past, there are heart issues - specifically we struggle to relate well to the past, present and future:
“Nostalgia says: I wish I could relive that time in my life. Regret says: I wish I could undo that time in my life. But the truth is, we can’t do either”
"Sometimes our obsession with the past masks an uneasy relationship with our present and a fear about our future”
These experiences and emotions are not foreign to the Bible. Instead, as we spend the first 6 months of this year in the post-exilic minor prophets, we are witnessing how God's people having returned to the Promised Land struggle with feeling of regret and nostaglia:
"As the old guard of Israelites stood in front of Zerubbabel’s half-built temple and remembered days gone by, they wished they could relive them, and they wished they could undo then. Of course, just like us, they couldn’t do either. But God didn’t leave them there, stuck in a muddle of nostalgia and regret. He gave them words of comfort, hope and renewed purpose. He sent two prophets, Zechariah and Haggai… and both of them can help us have a better attitude to the past too."
Rachel draws a few helpful points from the ministry of these prophets:
- SMALL CAN BE BEAUTIFUL: "Who dares despise the day of small things, since even the eyes of the LORD that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel" (Zechariah 4:8-10). "The problem with pining for the past is that we risk missing what God’s doing in the present… Perhaps you feel like you’re living in a day of small things too, and you wish you could go back to a time when things were bigger…. Small spiritually …. Small relationally… small physically…. While admitting what is small now, we need to be careful not to despite it – to do it down or wish it away or resent it. God is still at work in the day of small things….. Here’s the brilliant truth: we don’t have to do big things to impress God. He’s not so high and mighty that he’s above our small things – instead he works through them. And it makes God happy when we faithfully stick at his work, no matter how limp it looks in comparison to what’s gone before… If God is rejoicing, there’s no room or reason for you to be resentful”
- GET ON BOARD: "Be strong, all you people of the land and work. For I am with you" (Haggai 2:3). "God doesn’t just challenge how we think about the past and the present; through Haggai, he tells us that he transforms what we do in the present too…. So stop living in the past, and look for the people you can love and the good works you can do in the present. Be strong and work”
- THE BEST IS NOT BEHIND YOU, IT IS IN FRONT OF YOU: "In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth" (Haggai 2:6) “I don’t know what it is that’s not working in your life right now – the things which make you want to go back to a happier, easier era. I don’t know what you wish you could go back in time to change. But I do know that whatever’s behind you, if you’re a Christian – if you’ve been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb – then this is the future that awaits you on the other side of the grave. It’s a future where you will enjoy being sheltered by God’s presence, completely safe and free from fear. A future without any material or physical need… A future where the painful memories and fraught ‘if onlys’ all fade as God himself wipes away your tears of regret. This is a time worth longing for. And it lies ahead of you, not behind.”