You have to put the past behind you. That is where the past belongs, behind you. It is a great temptation to look back on days gone by and think that the best of life lies in the past. We think of the past as “the glory days” and endlessly try to relive the days of our youth. We pull out our high school yearbooks, our wedding pictures and our family photo albums and we create a romantic memory of the days of wine and roses. In our revelry we think that the times of the past were simpler times when life was new and fresh, full of endless possibilities. Our memory plays tricks on us because we selectively remember only the good times when life was filled with seasons in the sun.
It is easy to get caught up in a nostalgia for the past. Rather than facing the truth and the challenges of this day we look back on the past with a sentimental longing for the way that things used to be. Nostalgia creates a false memory of the past as being an easier and more simple time. The past is romanticized and becomes a false standard by which we measure our happiness today. Nostalgia rarely gives us a truthful and objective standard of life but becomes a subjective measure to which the present can never live up. Caught in the past, we fall into a persistent resentment and bitterness for the present. We complain and murmur about the current state of our life. Why can’t things return to the way that they once were? Why can’t we go back to the way we were before?
When we look to the future we struggle with our vision. The future seems so uncertain and full of challenges and impossible dreams. In the past, the future was full of promise and adventure but now, in the present, harsh reality, the future looms before us as a vast wasteland of broken dreams and promises. The future seems to only offer us work, endless obstacles and the fear of disappointments. The future is the place where death resides.
After leaving Egypt, the Israelites got caught up in the grip of a nostalgia for their former way of life. “The whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” (Ex 16,2-4) The “bread” of Egypt that the people had taken their fill of was the bread of slavery. It was truly the “bread of death”. Challenged by an uncertain future, rather than placing their trust in the Lord and his promises, the people grumbled and complained in resentment. For years in the desert, the Israelites carried with them the baggage of their past life of slavery and this hindered them from entering into the new life of the promised land where they would live in a manner that would show that they would “know that I, the Lord, am your God.” (Ex 16,12) God, in his mercy, gave them bread from heaven each day but this bread was a sign of something greater yet to come. This bread would perish but Jesus would give to the world “the food that endures for eternal life.” (Jn 6,27)
St. Paul appeals to the Ephesians to put away their former way of life and put on the new self each day. “That you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.” (Eph 4,21ff) The new self hungers for the bread of life that Jesus provides for his disciples. The new self knows that the best is yet to come. The new self does not forget that the future we seek is eternal life. St. Paul tells the Philippians: “It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3,12ff)
Jesus is the true bread of life that the Father has sent down from heaven. Jesus proclaims, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (Jn 6,35) The bread of life is a gift from heaven but the work of the future that we must do is preparing ourselves to receive it in faith. “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” (Jn 6,29) We must not wallow in the nostalgic musings of the past, grumbling and complaining about the work we have yet to do but we must press on in pursuit of the true prize of eternal life.