Nostalgia and Personal Growth

From Wikipedia:
The term nostalgia describes a yearning for the past, often in idealized form. The word is a learned formation of a Greek compounds, consisting of νόστος, nóstos, "returning home", a Homeric word, and ἄλγος, álgos, "pain" or "ache". It was described as a medical condition, a form of melancholy, in the Early Modern period, and came to be an important topic in Romanticism.

Nostalgia, in its most common meaning, caused the old front desk of The Beverly Hills Hotel (from 1942 to 1979) to be made into a bar. In common, less clinical usage, nostalgia sometimes includes a general interest in past eras and their personalities and events, especially the "good old days" of a few generations back recast in an idyllic light, such as the Belle Époque, Merry England, Neo-Victorian aesthetics, the US "Antebellum" Old South, etc. Sometimes it is brought on by a sudden image, or remembrance of something from one's childhood.

I think that most people feel nostalgic, at least now and then, for a part of their past. I, on the other hand, sometimes feel a little odd about the fact that I don't experience nostalgia for any part of my past. Not at all. Not ever. The most frequent prayer I pray is "Thank You, God, for delivering me from my past life...."

I believe these are the years of my life that I will eventually feel nostalgia for when I am an old woman. Not because my life is carefree or stress-free -- but because I have found the peace and joy I have always longed for. Looking back over my life, I realize that I had neither until well into my forties.

I remember once telling my Christian counselor that I was euphoric because I'd had two weeks of peace. He pointed out to me than an absence of conflict was not the equivalent of peace. And he asked me, "Do you ever really have peace?" The answer was obvious. My whole life revolved around trying to avoid conflict and please others. I knew it. Successfully avoiding conflict for two whole weeks was the greatest happiness I knew and I was thankful for it. I remember thinking that my counselor was raining on my parade that day. But I have reflected on that conversation many times since and realized the sad implications of my temporary euphoria.

As my life has blossomed into spiritual and emotional health, I feel sad for that young woman. It is hard to believe I used to actually be her. It seems like she is someone else. I don't feel nostalgia for her or any part of the life she lived. It's not that there were never any good times. It's more that I cannot separate the memory of a happy moment from the overall context of oppression in which I lived.

I have come so far -- both spiritually and emotionally -- over the last seven to eight years. I have been in a growth process that has required time, reflection and constant introspection. But this past year has been a breakthrough year for me in many ways. I know that writing my book was a big part of putting the past behind me. I feel purged; like I have finally, truly moved on from my past.

I can even think about a few people that I miss -- and still hold dear in my heart -- without grieving the loss of their presence in my life today. I'm free. I not only have peace in my present life; I believe I am finally at peace with the past and all of the wounds I have struggled to heal from. There were many times along this journey that I wondered if I would ever be completely free.

I recently made a silly joke to my pastor. We were talking about Hoedown and kids having fun. John made a comment about all the fun he had as a kid. And I said that I didn't get to have a lot of fun as a kid, which is why I wrote a book. Ha Ha. Then for the rest of the day, I ruminated on that joke. I wondered why I had said that. I didn't write a book because I didn't get to have enough fun as a kid. I really don't even care about the fun I missed out on. That has never been my focus. I don't grieve not getting to wear pants or not going to dances with my friends. I have felt robbed of knowing what Jesus accomplished for me on the cross. So I honestly wondered where that joke even came from. Later in the week I sent him a quick email (so I would stop ruminating on it). He wrote a simple response and signed the email: Onward, Allen.

My current pastor has never lectured me or offered unsolicited personal advice.That is one of the things I have found so very refreshing about his pastoral style. But in that one word he reminded me to keep going forward.

I have been reading one biography after another this year. I finished Abraham Lincoln, then read Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield. What I have come away with from those three biographies is how little people actually change from one era to another. The scenery of our lives changes. But the lives we lead, especially the interpersonal relationships and struggles with each other, are very much the same. Everyone has critics. Everyone has a unique set of convictions and passions. Some people are endeared to us and others loathe us.

While reading Whitefield's biography, I was just struck with how little has changed when it comes to the issues that divide us in the Christian faith. And I had to laugh while reading about the pastors who opposed Whitefield's itinerant ministry because it took people and money away from their congregations. As I read and compared the people of colonial times to the people of today, I had to wonder why God hasn't gotten totally exhausted with watching our struggles and contentions with one another by now. I thought to myself, "How much longer is He going to be content to let this all go on?"

As a direct result of reading that book, I decided to finally read "Blue Like Jazz" written by Donald Miller, an author I have previously somewhat dismissed. I have not felt inclined to read any of the books written by "emergent" guys. I read part of a McLaren book years ago and I have read many Rob Bell quotes that I could not embrace. Equally troubling to me was the fact that so many in the cult I left were strongly identifying with emergents. The common ground seemed to be a mutual elevation of personal thoughts, feelings and experiences above absolute truth. I wanted no part of that. I remember having conversations with friends in my small groups about the dangers of deception. I knew several of them just didn't "get" my strong feelings. But I was on a search for absolute truth. I didn't want to read things that made me feel good or better about myself. I wanted sound biblical truths and I had a deep-rooted fear of being deceived. So I viewed the emphasis on feelings as dangerous.

That I am even reading "Blue Like Jazz" is more evidence (to me) of how far I've come. That may or may not make sense to anybody else. But if you and I have ever had one of those intense conversations about "Christian" authors who elevate man rather than glorifying God ... then you know.

I'm only 33 pages into the book, but I am enjoying it. I'm comprehending more fully the common humanity I share with even those I strongly disagree with.


Jannelle said…
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Jannelle said…
"It's not that there were never any good times. It's more that I cannot separate the memory of a happy moment from the overall context of oppression in which I lived."

Shari, I loved this part! I've never been able to explain to Allen the "tug-of-war" I have with my memories from my childhood. Allen has often asked me, "Babe, did ANYTHING good ever happen to you as a child?" I could never really remember anything specifically good, but I know there had to have been. Thanks for this post!
Shari said…
Thanks for telling me that, Jannelle. I love you too!