This week Marion and I spent several days with her Aunt Doreen, who has concluded that the time has come to dispose of her home and its contents. Due to the effects of a mild stroke, Doreen can no longer live on her own, but she can still return to her home for a couple of days at a time with support, to go through various household items and personal mementoes in preparation for an eventual sale. Each of Marion’s siblings has invested considerable time and energy supporting Doreen as she goes through this process. This week it was our turn.
As my role in this undertaking was mostly that of an observer and occasional assistant, I had plenty of time to reflect on the process. Doreen came from a line of people who placed high value on the past, and saved anything that might someday be of value. True to her upbringing, she rarely threw anything out. She kept anything that reminded her of projects or people that had been important to her throughout her life. Now she is taking a long walk down memory lane, reliving days gone by and deciding what to give away to each of her nieces and nephews. The things that she is sorting through represent people and places long gone, and the process of letting go of these valued items is in reality a process of saying goodbye to the past and its memories.
But Doreen is not only a child of her upbringing. She is also a woman of faith. She remembers the past with gratitude but she knows she can’t live in it. She has to look ahead to whatever future God has left for her in this life, and beyond that to the hope of eternal life in Jesus’ Kingdom.
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land after their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the Lord instructed Joshua to have them take twelve stones with them from out of the Jordan, one for each tribe. The stones were to remind the Israelites of the great miracle that God had done for them when he stopped the waters of the Jordan from flowing so that the people could cross on dry ground.
Joshua didn’t build the memorial so that the Israelites could live in the past, remembering how wonderful it was when the Lord had delivered them, and wishing nostalgically that He would do something like that again. God wanted His people to remember the miracle, but he didn’t want them to spend their lives looking back. Joshua built the memorial so that they would remember how wonderfully God had delivered them in the past, realize that without him they would be completely and hopelessly lost, and put their complete confidence in Him for the present and for the future.
I will soon be fifty-nine years old. The longer I live, the more I have to remember. But I have learned that nostalgia is a trap. I don’t want to live my older years nostalgically reminiscing about past years and wishing I was young again. No matter how few or how many years remain to me in this life, I want to live the rest of my days looking forward to God’s future. I want to take my cue from the way the apostle Paul lived his life. Even though he was an apostle, he knew he still had growing to do, and he knew that God had not called him to be preoccupied with the past. His advice was to forget what lies behind and focus on what lies ahead, for the sake of God’s call. That sounds like good advice to me.