It is confession time for me. I made a big mistake early in my music career: I played the nostalgia card.
I had the best of intentions. I was recording old songs that resonated with me and tied me to my past. I could play “It is Well” and remember sitting behind Mrs. Allison and listening to her sing that song when I was just a small boy in a tiny church in the woods of Tennessee. I could play “Ivory Palaces” and remember my dad using that song as the lead-in to his radio broadcast.
So, in early concerts and in my writing, I often talked a lot about nostalgia, but when I look back today, I wince a little because I think I was wrong to do that. Here’s why: while it is healthy to be connected to the past to some extent, those good feelings of nostalgia do nothing for today with its own unique set of challenges, problems, and opportunities. Nostalgia is like cotton candy: satisfying for only a second but empty of sustenance and ultimately flat out unhelpful. The writer of Ecclesiastes was wise when he warned against nostalgia (Eccl. 7:10).
That brings me to Christmas. I remember very small things about Christmas from my childhood. I remember going to my grandparents and seeing a lit up snowman on the town square of the tiny town that they lived in (West Point, MS). I remember sleeping on the floor of their tiny house and waking up to presents on Christmas morning. I remember playing football with the cousins and getting to watch a little football on TV (we did not have a TV so that was a big deal).
And of course, I remember the Christmas music. The classic Christmas songs you hear on your radio station today are the same ones I heard back then. There is a very strong nostalgic connection that occurs when you hear Karen Carpenter crooning and remember hearing her croon the same arrangement decades before.
There is something else I remember about the Christmas of my childhood too. I remember getting depressed when it was over. I don’t have to tell you that is a common problem this time of year. You will see at least one news story over the next week about depression after Christmas.
There are probably many reasons for why people get depressed at Christmas but there is no doubt that nostalgia is one of the biggest culprits. We tend to get nostalgic about the past and that leads to idealizing it. We judge today’s Christmas celebration against what was or at least what we selectively remember it was, perhaps when times were simpler or when more family members were with us or when we were not responsible for the financial side of Christmas. The past was not really as great as we think it was, but in our minds, it becomes a golden standard that today’s celebration comes up short against.
Let’s remember something about Christmas: the original meaning of Christmas was not about the past but rather the future. The advent was about hope for things not yet seen. It was the answer for why the believers in Hebrews 11 did the heroic things they did. They knew that eventually, Christ would be born and that would be the hope for their eternal future (Hebrews 11:13-15).
If you are feeling a bit depressed today, can I encourage you to exchange a focus on the past for a focus on the future? Give up nostalgia and focus on hope.
Take a next step too and intentionally plan to see good things happen in the future. For me, the week between Christmas and New Years is a time where I like to plan the next year. We don’t control our futures but that does not mean we should not plan. Here is a simple 3-step process to go through.
- Start by deciding what is important to you. What are overarching values? What do you want your life to look like?
- Develop specific goals for those areas. For example, if one of the things you want for your life in 2017 is less work, perhaps you might make a goal that you spend an hour a day relaxing or that you will spend half of a day every other weekend doing a family activity.
- Come up with a specific plan to make that happen. If you want that time to relax, you are going to have to intentionally do things to make that happen. If you have financial goals, you will have to budget. You will not achieve anything if you don’t plan.
This little process will help you in many ways but one big way it will help you is that it will get your focus away from the glitter of yesterday to the future. We are not called to be slaves to the past. The future is where our focus belongs.