Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”—Revelation 21:1-5
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
For it is not wise to ask such questions.—Ecclesiastes 7:10
When I was 17, I could stand in front of a full-sized propane tank, crouch down slightly, spring over it, and land gracefully on the other side. I could dunk a basketball from the time I was 16 until somewhere around age 25. Jumping came naturally, and it was fun, and I took a lot of pride in it.
I’m 47 now. Last summer I was invited to a local park to play a game of frisbee with some people who were all significantly younger than me. At one point someone threw a frisbee to me that was too high, but I thought, “no problem, I’ll just jump up and get it.” I ran, and I told my legs to jump…and nothing happened. I didn’t get off the ground more than a couple of inches, and the frisbee went sailing pathetically out of my reach. Apparently, something has happened over the last 30 years, and I can no longer spring into the air like I used to. (And even if I could, there is the question of how graceful the landing would be. My knees hurt for a week after that frisbee game.)
As a pastor, I have watched a lot of people wrestle with the realities of aging. And as someone who moved away from his hometown for 25 years and then moved back, I have had the strange experience of reuniting with my peers and discovering that we have aged, too. Some of us just look like older versions of our teenage selves, while some are downright unrecognizable. But either way, none of us can deny that time has passed, and things are changing, and there’s no stopping it.
Some people struggle with this more than others. Because I’m (apparently) old now, I’m connected with a lot of no-longer-young people on social media. If you’re not aware, for some older people, Facebook has become a place to wallow in nostalgia. According to them, everything was better in the past, and the world has been going steadily downhill for a long time now. Life was better back when we had “real” music, parents smoked in the car while kids rode without seatbelts, no one cared about nutrition or the environment, and children entertained themselves riding their bikes without helmets and throwing rocks at each other in the street. Or something like that. Once upon a time, when we were younger, America was the ideal place to live, and all was right with the world.
Now, first of all, let me say that I get it. I, too, had a childhood that can easily be glamorized. I grew up riding my bike on the streets of Greenville, California, with my brother, catching crawdads and lizards and staying out late on perfect summer evenings until mom called us in for dinner. After little league games, we rode down the street in the back of someone’s pickup to the diner, where the coach bought us all milkshakes.
The truth is, I have been blessed to live a life in which each season holds sweet memories. I remember piling into a couple of cars with all my high school friends and driving to Indian Falls for the day, swimming and climbing rocks and taking foolish risks to impress each other. I smile when I think about the simple days when Carey and I were newlyweds in Colorado, living a carefree life with no kids, snowshoeing and hiking in the Rocky Mountains on weekends.
Then we moved to the Oregon Coast, and a new season began: raising children in a tight-knit community, leading a growing church, and the beauty of the ocean at our doorstep. Sunset bonfires on the beach with our circle of friends were a regular thing. Those days are gone now, and some of those friends have since moved away, as we did. We’re at the point now that we see pictures of our kids back then and say to each other, “Oh, look how little they were!” and are made keenly aware of the unstoppable march of time.
What are we supposed to do with all of these sweet memories, with the feeling of nostalgia that tempts us to live in the past? What are widows and widowers supposed to do when looking back on life with their spouse is more appealing than looking forward to an uncertain future? How are we supposed to feel when we are confronted with the reality that our country, or our body, isn’t what it used to be?
The Bible says that God gave Solomon supernatural wisdom. He was the wisest man who ever lived. And Solomon thought that wallowing in nostalgia was unwise. He said, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). He didn’t say it was never the case that the old days were better. Sometimes the truth is that they were, at least in some ways. He just said dwelling on that fact isn’t a wise way to live. The past was a beautiful gift from God, to be enjoyed for a season. We are right to thank Him for it, but it is no longer reality, and trying to live there will only distract us from the things He is doing in our lives now. As He was with us then, He is with us today, and He has plans for us in the future. We can’t live in the past and pay attention to God’s activity in the present.
Furthermore, the Bible is clear that as believers we live our lives with our eyes on the horizon. This is part of the beauty of the promise of eternal life. For those who have trusted Christ, it is always true that the best is yet to come. One day we will receive new, resurrected bodies (which I assume will allow us to jump like teenagers), look our Savior in the eyes, and enter into an eternity of joy and peace on the New Earth. To wish for a return to the Good Old Days is to wish ourselves further from heaven, which no one in their right mind would do.
My favorite scene from the movie “The Passion of the Christ” is when Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry Jesus’ cross. At first he resists, because he is innocent and shouldn’t have to bear this burden. But soon he realizes how much Christ is suffering from the weight of the cross, and from all the torture he has already endured, and he begins to have compassion for Him. He begins to see Calvary not as the place of Jesus’ suffering, but as the place of His deliverance, where He will finally be free of all the pain of this life. As they stumble along, he starts to encourage Jesus with these words: “Almost there. We’re almost there.” Death on the cross is no longer something to be feared or avoided. It has become the goal, because of what awaits Him on the other side.
Are you in a difficult season? Are you lonely, or confused, or frustrated, or suffering? Do you long for the happier times of yesteryear? Don’t be deceived. Your best days are not back there, they’re up ahead. Thank God for the sweet seasons He’s allowed you to enjoy, but then turn your eyes to the horizon. Embrace whatever joys and trials you are facing in the present. He is with you through all of them, blessing you, growing you, shaping you to be more like His Son, and preparing you for eternity. Take heart, and keep moving forward. We’re almost there.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 3:12-14