When I lived in Japan as a 19 year old, I greatly missed home (and American food) for the first few weeks there. I suppose that’s natural. They say you often lose weight when you first arrive at a culture with a vastly different diet than your own, and then as soon as you get used to how great the food is, you gain weight. Well, I eventually learned to make miso soup and fish heads staples in my diet. I even tried some raw chicken (a delicacy), but my weight gain was not because I was putting down the healthy fish, rice, and tofu. It was more the result of having found some European bakeries and a little cafe tucked away within walking distance of my college campus. On the menu at that little cafe were banana crêpes and mint milkshakes.
Yeah, it was all over at that point. They had me at crêpe and milkshake.
I certainly love those flavors and food items. And I knew having one of each was such a teenage-metabolism thing to do, but I was drawn to the comfort of foods I would find at home. I needed something non-fishy and non-red-bean to bring me some home—some familiar.
And I’d like to tell you that I exercised self-control, but the truth is: I went every day after class for two weeks and ordered both until my stomach literally hurt. It’s what made me realize I needed to stop, get a grip, cease pretending to be somewhere I wasn’t, and live in the present.
I wish this lesson had stuck with me, but decades later, I found myself in the Marshall Islands with my very young family, spending so much of my day emailing and Facebook-ing the friends and family I left behind. It delayed my adjustment until one day I realized: “I’m in a sunny, tropical place. Why am I living in Boston in my heart and mind when I really needed to be making a life on the other side of the International Date Line?”
I feel this way about holding onto the past in general. I sometimes want to go back to when this or that relationship was better, this child wasn’t struggling, that financial stress wasn’t weighing down on us, we didn’t have XYZ problem, life was simpler, etc. Do you ever feel that way? As if, somehow, transporting ourselves back to that time and place erases all worry and stress?
It really doesn’t. We just end up trading in current wisdom for a time when we hadn’t learned certain lessons yet or experienced particular deepening, strengthening trials.
For every relationship we look back to a better day, there are those that are now healed and stronger. For every trouble squeezing our heart now, going back in time just finds us another one and we’d have to go through it all over again. As much as I miss holding my infants, I can still hold other people’s and savor the memories.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ESV, King Solomon* speaking
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
Verses 1-8 of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 are well known and often quoted. Many find comfort in those passages. But what really strikes me is what the author says following that part: “I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
Ecclesiastes 3:10-12, ESV, King Solomon speaking
I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live…
That sure sounds a lot like:
Revelation 21:15, ESV, Apostle John speaking
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Romans 8:28, ESV, Apostle Paul speaking
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time” means that even our oldest pain, deepest struggle, past regret, biggest learning curve, etc.—when yielded to Him—can be made beautiful, can be turned around, can be given new life.
What’s more: “He has put eternity into man’s heart.” The longing we feel is not really nostalgia in the sense we understand it. It’s a timeless ache that can only be filled with relationship with God, that, thanks to the redeeming work of Christ on the cross, we can have forever.
We often want something comfortable, familiar, and from another time and place because we rely on memories and a time gone by to inform our hearts.
I challenge us to ask God to help us live in the present: fully engaged in what is happening now, learning from what came before, and knowing that with “all things new” and “working together for good” when we trust in Christ, we can see the past as reassurance that we come through things, we can heal, hope is ready, and the lessons of yesterday are the growth needed for today.
*It is a widely held belief that King Solomon authored Ecclesiastes.
For a great book with a heavenly perspective, refer to You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan.
For more anecdotal stories with direct application of what the Bible teaches about relationships (with God and others), healthy boundaries, grace, childrearing, joy and peace in the storms of life, and many other topics, refer to Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day.