The Danger of Nostalgia and the Old Normal

Bishop Gary Mueller preached yesterday on Jesus’ interaction with Thomas. During the sermon, he emphasized the similarities to our world today, and how we sometimes desire to go back to the “old way” of doing things. This is certainly true lately, with so many changes regarding church services, work adjustments, school closures, and the like. But despite all the chaos and uncertainty of a pandemic, hopefully we are transformed by Jesus Christ and live completely differently through the reality of the resurrection! We have the opportunity to live boldly today, even in the face of trouble.

This sermon got me thinking about nostalgia, a word you’re likely familiar with. It describes the feeling of having a sentimental affection for the past… the “good old days.” It is perfectly normal to reminisce about days of youth or precious memories. Yet if we think about nostalgia from a Christian perspective, there are several issues that can quickly arise. It can easily lead us to idolize and worship the past. Nostalgia can leave us “stuck” in the old without considering our present or future.

Nostalgia can obviously come in varying degrees. I’m certain you’ve either heard or experienced the following…

  • “I sure do miss high school!”
  • “Now those were the best years of my life.”
  • “I used to be so happy back then…”
  • “Things have changed so much. I just miss how the world used to be.”

I think the bishop’s sermon encouraged us all to be wary of such thinking. Why dwell on the past all the time, when we have the chance to experience more of God’s kingdom right now?

I was confronted with this question a couple years ago with the Tucker prison ministry. We were talking about the idea behind 2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”—and the stories of our past.

Several of the inmates spoke about broken histories. They might have even enjoyed their past. Sin can actually be quite fun, otherwise we wouldn’t do it! We talked about how abusing substances like alcohol and drugs can make you feel extremely delightful. Indulging in anger or violence can feel liberating. Stealing even can give you “free” stuff.

But when someone sobers up, calms down, gets caught, or otherwise faces the consequences for his or her actions, then reality sets in. Sin can be fun, but it always leads us to an extremely dark place. Likewise, Paul in 2 Corinthians speaks about how the old order of things goes away, as the new creation of Christ invades our lives. God calls us not to live in the past, but embrace the unfolding of God’s kingdom right now. We miss it if we get so wrapped up in nostalgia, whether that be reminiscing about high school football, or even having a life of crime! In Tucker, this quite literally meant leaving behind an extremely dark past in exchange for knowing Jesus.

Bishop Mueller put it this way during his sermon yesterday:

I’ve heard a number of people who have said, ‘I just wanna go back to the way things were.’ Well guess what? I don’t, and I really don’t think you do either! Because once you’ve tasted the blessing of a deeper relationship with Jesus… Seeing life differently because you’re living the resurrection reality… When you’ve begun to see what the future can be like… You don’t want to go back to the way things were. You want to move into that future.

I’m gonna let you on a little secret: Everyday I pray, “Lord, let’s not go back to the old normal. Instead, Lord, take us to Jesus’ new normal.” That’s what Jesus wants for you. That’s what he wants for your church. That’s what he wants for the world. Believing in Jesus in a COVID-19 world is the most important decision you can ever make. It will change your life. It will bless you. And it will allow you to be a blessing for others.

The bishop also noted how even in the midst of a pandemic, God is still working. Perhaps God has changed you to be more appreciative and loving of family members. Or God might have placed new opportunities for outreach on your heart. God may lead you to a deeper sense of hope and faithfulness.

We might be tempted to long for the world as it was a couple months ago. Yet in doing so, we miss out on what God is doing right now. God seeks to change us and grow closer with us with each passing moment.

So be wary of things like nostalgia, especially now more than ever. Why settle for the old, broken normal, when we can have Jesus’ new normal!

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