I went on a trip back in time a few weeks ago.
Heading off to pick up the motorbike my husband had bought me was like going down memory lane as we travelled some 350km out west, to the other side of the rural city I spent most of my childhood in. I have rarely been there in the ensuing thirty-something years since we moved away, but on the occasions I have, the memories come flooding back at every landmark, town and hamlet.
We decided to make a bit of a road trip out of the journey, leaving early so we could take it easy. It was nice not to have to rush, not to have to be anywhere by a certain time. Our day was largely unplanned, stopping morning tea when we felt like it in a lovely old rural town, complete with the Saturday market. By lunchtime we had made it to my home town. As we sat outside the main street bakery in the summer sun, eating our pies, I felt waves of nostalgia for days gone by.
Reflecting on my feelings, I realised that we had left there at a point where I was gaining greater independence and freedom, which I didn't have to the same level in the place we moved. There was a part of me that still felt I had missed something because of the move. However, there was also the problem that although many things were just the same as I remembered, so much was different.
My heart was yearning to go back to that simpler place in that simpler time, but it is no longer there and neither am I.
The desire to go back in time has been a temptation for me at a number of significant points in my life, particularly in the pain of divorce. Thinking about what life might have been like if things had been different, if I had made a different decision, if I had been more emotionally healthy, the "if only..." scenarios can seem like an escape from dealing with the difficulties of the current situation. I have realised, though, that these thoughts don't actually help at all. They keep me stuck and can simply lead to bitterness and disappointment colouring all that comes after.
I can't live there.
The past is gone and it is unalterable, just as the person I was back then no longer exists. And besides, I still have more past to create, I still have a road to travel. If I try to do that looking backwards, I will either come to a grinding halt or I will crash. Consider Lot's wife. Looking back inappropriately brought her to a permanent standstill!
However, looking back at the past with nostalgia is not our only problem.
Looking back on the journey of our lives in any capacity can be a dangerous occupation.
Reflecting on the past with the rose-coloured glasses of time can be wishing for something that really never existed. We forget the less than perfect bits. When we reflect and feel, "I wish it was like the 'old days", or "life was better back then", we can also diminish our enjoyment of the present.
On the other hand, we can dismiss the past in its entirety, deciding that because there were bad bits, none of it has any value. Doing this, we lose a significant part of who we are and can become a little rootless. It makes it easier to disconnect from any part of life we find unpleasant, leaving a shallowness in our relationships.
Recollections are important at some level, though. God was pretty adamant about it with the Israelites, urging them to remember all the lessons, good and bad, from their past with Him. It helped them remember who He was (and is) for them through tough times, and was to keep them from straying back into past errors.
Celebrating and being grateful for the good times, for the positive experiences and input, and learning from mistakes - our own as well as those of others - is an important part of the fullness of life. It can keep us grounded.
Embrace the past. Make peace, however you can, whatever it takes, with those aspects you'd rather forget. They are part of what makes you who you are - make them count for something good! Give thanks for every opportunity for growing and learning, whatever form they came in. I promise you, it will change your perspective on the worst experiences. Share the joy and sadness with others.
But remember to come back to living the present you have been given, looking forward to future joys and challenges, so when they are done with they too can become part of the ever-changing scenery of a life well traveled.