This is the 2nd part of the Nostalgia Trilogy. I had previously mentioned the danger of expecting your worship time to mysteriously transport you to a time when you felt close to the Lord. But there can also be a nostalgic danger in sanctification: the work of God’s free grace where we are made more like Jesus.
Nostalgia can pop its ugly head when we wish to return to the feeling we had during a retreat. At other times, we may simply wait for that feeling to return to us before we press on in our spiritual disciplines like bible reading, prayer, fellowship, etc…When that feeling returns, I’ll get back “on board.” But Habakuk reminds us that by faith we have to choose to rejoice in God as opposed to waiting for situations and feelings to return (Hab 3:18).
A final danger of nostalgia I’ve noticed is the constant tendency to compare. When we don’t compare ourselves with others, we often compare ourselves with ourselves in the past. For instance, we might despair when we realize that we struggle with the same sins we’ve always struggled with. Or we might look back and feel we’ve gone “backwards.” We might feel discouraged when we struggled with different stuff earlier in our journey and now we struggle with things we feel are “bigger.”
The apostle Paul lays forth a healthy dose of present reflection (on how far he hasn’t come), yet tempers it with a forward focus. For instance, he admits near the end of his life that he feels as though he is the “foremost” sinner (I Tim 1:15). That’s a far more self deprecating title to describe himself than earlier in his life and ministry. But he still presses on toward the goal of finishing the race (Phil 3).
It is helpful to recognize how far we haven’t come. But that is only for the purpose of relishing God’s grace and to receive encouragement to press on. When that backward glance becomes nostalgic, making you wish you could just become that person you once were, you can rest assure that thought has the smell of smoke. Because it doesn’t come from these parts, but instead from down below. Way below.