What Can We Make Of The Present When We Compare It With The Past?

When I walk through the halls of Seacoast, I walk through memories. They live in the rooms, sit in the chairs, waiting for me to find them again. I pass a particular staircase and am transported back, twenty years ago, to the first time I saw the girl who would become my wife. I walk into the worship center and see the section where an 11-year-old me experienced his first worship service. There is power in memory, in looking to the past. There is also danger. As I walk through my memories, I must take care not to become lost in them.

Ecclesiastes 7:10 tells us “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” We are often tempted to compare the past with the present. I’m pretty sure that every generation who has ever lived has thought some variation of, “When I was young, things were better.” That might even be true, for some. Yet we are not called to relive the past, but to help God create the future.

I’ve been a part of Seacoast for about 25 years but I’ve never looked to the past as “the good old days.” And there were some pretty great moments back then! Yet I spend time reliving these memories, not because those days were better, but because they were the moments God used to refashion my life into something new.

The Value Of Sentiment

The problem with idealizing the past is that it can’t help us make anything. It can only stand at a distance and critique the present. Mere sentiment might give us warm feelings, but nothing more. And if that is the case, we need to beware relying on nostalgia and sentiment to give us anything of value. So what do we do?

“It [the past] can only stand at a distance and critique the present.”

In his farewell show, David Letterman had comedian Norm Macdonald perform as the final act. Macdonald ended the set by recounting his first time seeing Letterman perform in person, when Norm was only 13 years old. Closing out the final show of his hero, Norm said that Letterman “has no truck for the sentimental. If something is true, it is not sentimental. And I say in truth, I love you.” And then Norm Macdonald burst into tears. 

Celebrate The Past

This, to me, is the right path. There is nothing wrong with sentimentality, provided we see it for what it is. And that means seeing and celebrating the past with clarity and truth. It means admitting our failures and perhaps celebrating them as well, for it is through failure that we begin to discern the path we need to follow instead.

Seacoast Church has always been a church that looked to the future, to where God was calling us to go next. But now, as we approach our 31st year, I hope we all take some time and look back. Not out of mere sentiment, not stopping to dwell in nostalgia, but rather learning to see with greater clarity what God has done. Our memories aren’t ghosts to be avoided, but old friends to be welcomed. We just need to make sure they don’t overstay their welcome.