I collect old hymnals. Most are from the early 20th century, but I have a few that date back to the 1800s. I love to admire the covers, all tattered and torn, and the delicate, velvety soft pages. The musty smell evokes an image of a little country church with wooden benches and hardwood floors and a pot-bellied stove. In a few of the hymnals you can find page numbers written on the inside cover, now almost faded with time. The strokes are thick and thin, obviously written with a quill and ink. One didn’t just pull out a ballpoint pen and jot these numbers down. These numbers were deliberate, they took some effort; undoubtably a few favorite selections of the singer.
As I thumb through the songs in these hymnals, by mind drifts back across the years and I imagine someone who has long since passed holding this very book and singing some of these same songs that we sing in worship today. It may have been a father sitting on a church pew with his wife and kids, holding this very book and singing No.48…
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
A bit nostalgic, perhaps, but that’s what we do isn’t it? In 1940, in an essay titled, “Look Homeward, Americans,” novelist Carson McCullers proposed that nostalgia is a “national trait for Americans…as native to us as the roller coaster or the jukebox.” Even at my relatively young age I think back on my childhood as a time when summers were longer, the grass was greener, and cartoons were better. Childhood was Saturday morning breakfast with Grandaddy and Slush Puppies from the Dime Store.
It’s in our nature to look back on the “good ol’ days” with fond feelings and block out the negative memories, but we are often falsely nostalgic. Every age has had it’s share of problems. Sure, your grandparents could buy a bottle of coke for a nickel, but they didn’t have running water, or toilet paper, or individually wrapped cheese slices. They suffered through the Great Depression and two World Wars. Life wasn’t all roses. Even in my own family, I’ve come to realize that we’ve had our share of heartaches and trials that I was oblivious to as a child.
There’s an old Cherokee Proverb that says “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.” I’m not saying we should throw it all out. Nostalgia is what we do. So keep the fond memories and smell the hymnals every now and then, but don’t make it such a focal point in your life that you can’t appreciate what God is doing today. Don’t disdain the new because you long for the old. Life changes, but He “changest not”. Things will not stay the same, but you can move forward day by day for the glory of God. As the Apostle Paul said to the church at Philippi,
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 3:13-14
Strain forward. Press on. Some say things are getting worse. I say things have never really been as good as you remember. But today… This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.