Here’s a challenge: go back and find a photograph of yourself from about ten or fifteen years ago. Try to identify what has changed since then.
It’s okay; take your time. I have hours.
My husband and I have been doing this lately as, in our organizing and cleaning, we’ve stumbled on photographs from college and even before. Our hairstyles have changed over the years: no bangs now for me, thinner sideburns for him, and we’ve both received our inaugural gray hairs since those halcyon days. Different clothes, different shoes, different friends in the background. Different states. Different jobs.
“Do you miss it?” my husband wondered as he thumbed through our old wedding and honeymoon album. In the pictures we’re both glowing, head-over-heels in love and fresh out of college. “Would you go back if you could?”
It was a question worth considering, and so I did. Of course it would be fun to go back and relive all those firsts together. We have a lot of good memories from the first year of our marriage, and from all the years after. But…
“No,” I said. I loved those early days and our shared past. I treasured those memories. But I wouldn’t give up who and how we are at this moment, either. “As amazing as those times were, no.”
My husband grinned. “Me either. Because it’s pretty great right now.”
And it is. The present and the future matters to us just as much as the past, and I think we’d be depressed if we felt our best days – the only ones worth returning to – were behind us. The truth is, the people we’ve become in the intervening years between then and now are exactly why we’re happy to live in this moment without going back in time: we’ve changed and grown closer and loved deeply and lived a lot.
It’s not that we shouldn’t honor the past. I still choke up when I see pictures of the grandmothers and grandfather I’ve lost. I love to reminisce about happy family memories and traditions and my college and high school days. Those were fantastic times and the memories themselves are blessings. It’s good, too, to learn from the past – the author of Ecclesiastes and the author of proverbs both share observations and wisdom gained from long years and a thoughtful outlook.
But if we value the past more than the present – if we perceive the best part of our lives as having come and gone – we run the risk of always trying to return to it rather than growing and living and being. If we idolize the past, we spend all our time trying to return to it without ever looking ahead or imagining that there could, yes, be better.
Because there will be better. Even the present – as good as it might be – isn’t as good as it’s going to get. “For here we do not have an enduring city,” Hebrews 13:14 reminds us, “but we are looking for the city that is to come.” From a Biblical perspective, your best days aren’t behind you. Not by a long shot.
For believers, the best is always yet to come. So yes, let’s honor the past – but not idolize it. Let’s embrace who we’ve become in the present moment, with the recognition that we all still having growing and living left to do – and that the future ahead of us is beautiful.