When we approach the beginning of another school year, I have a wave of nostalgia that crashes over me. There is that bitter-sweet combination of anticipation and dread that came around Labor Day, facing another round of studies and enforced schedules returning to days of discipline and rigorous training.
When we go through another round of political debates as we are experiencing right now, I am reminded of a more civil time and place where actual arguments could be made and debated without ad hominem retribution.
When we think of the passing of the great generation of post-World War II church leaders who are already in heaven, including Billy Graham, C. S. Lewis, Bishop Sheen, and Henrietta Mears, I remember the depth of their spirituality, the clarity of their thought, and their unstinting commitment to the cause of the church.
When I think of the members of my own family who have been sterling examples of Christian character, whose sacrifice for their families, their communities, and the church has produced great good that is impossible to measure, I am inspired by the previous generation.
But wait, there are those who would say, “Tim, when you let your mind wander to the past like that you are not facing reality! You can’t live in the past; you can’t proceed through life looking in the rear-view mirror.”
At one level, my response can be, ”Why not? If I get a glimpse of some good things from the past, why should I not keep them clearly in view.”
Of course, many will point out that the “good old days” were not necessary that good. Oftentimes people point to all the technological advances that have made life easier for us.
Well, our nostalgia rarely runs to recapture the glories of the outhouse, manual typewriters, or pre-microwave cooking. Our hearts more likely pine away for meaningful relationships, strong personal character, honesty and truthfulness in conversation, and trust and respect between human beings. We see the value in taking time for other people, caring for them, and offering a helping hand to others, thereby strengthening the community.
When those good qualities of the past are still in our memories, we have a responsibility to find creative ways for them to be recreated in our own time. This is not living in the past, but rather bringing the past into the present to make life more what God intends for it to be.
How can this be done? Let me suggest:
- Recognize that there are important values of the past that are slipping through our fingers. The common reflexive response is often that any apparent loss of values in any one generation is common in every generation. The complaint these days that younger people are not embodying essential attitudes and core convictions is not just a recurring generational dynamic, however, it is genuinely more acute and dire today. And those values are not just being lost in younger generations, older people too are getting wobbly in their spiritual perceptions. Lost values are evident in rising numbers of long-term marriages ending in divorce, in the violence of mass shootings, in increasingly shrill political rhetoric, in decreasing attendance in houses of worship, in the depersonalizing of relationships with the rise of social media — just to name a few.
- Realize our individual responsibility as spiritual and moral role models. Experts say that each of us influence on average 240 people in a lifetime. That influence can be either good or bad. We need to seriously think about our sphere of influence and ask, "How am I impacting the people around me? How am I modeling life-affirming and God-honoring values? What attitudes, behaviors, and habits of the heart am I exhibiting for others?" What John Donne said long ago is true — no man is an island. We are all part of a community. We need each other and we need to positively impact everyone we touch.
May God give us the wisdom to bring the positive spirit of the values that still live on in our nostalgia into daily experience as we face the real challenges of life as the 21st century continues to unfold.