Last weekend our family snatched a few precious days away. It was the only time we could all get away together over the summer so we headed to the South coast of England near Chichester.
West Wittering beach is very special to our family. It is isn’t the most beautiful beach in the world but it is very dear to us. It was not only the location of my husbands family holidays growing up, but it also became our family’s go-to destination for last-minute beach trips, usually on the final Bank Holiday in August, to say goodbye to summer.
And this is a poignant summer for us, squeezed in between weddings and October changes that will leave our boy’s bedrooms empty again. So, we booked a weekend in a caravan, packed our towels and suncream and headed for the beach.
And I never even considered that it would be so emotional.
As my long-legged young adults vacated the cars, I suddenly remembered them as excited young children, their arms full of buckets and spades and nets to catch crabs. We would arrive at the coast early enough to find the perfect spot to lay out our towels near the rock pools that my children loved. These mini sealife centres would entertain them for hours. All sorts of critters were collected and kept in buckets, as beach pets for the day, only to be released as the sun sank low in the sky and thoughts turned to dinner.
The memories of those happy days are vivid and bittersweet. They make me cry and smile at the same time.
It is the human condition we call nostalgia.
And all of us suffer from it from time to time. It is a combination of a kind of warm remembering and a bittersweet longing for happy times in the past. It is the feeling you get when a song from your youth comes on the radio or you eat your favourite childhood candy. It can be triggered by a particular smell, an old photograph or revisiting a place you once lived. It is sometimes described as, ‘looking back with joy.’
When scientists first identified this mental state, they believed it to be a wholly negative condition, an illness that needed to be cured. Remembering and longing for the past was considered unhealthy and dangerous.
However, as time has gone by and more scientific studies have been done we have discovered how important nostalgia is to our well-being. We now know that reminiscing is comforting and it can relieve stress and anxiety. It also reduces feelings of loneliness and makes us feel connected. And, it can increase our sense of gratitude and make us less selfish.
Familiar music stirs memories in dementia patients and reaches them in a way that no other type of communication can.
And nostalgia can actually make us more optimistic about the future, more inspired and more creative.
The word, nostalgia, comes from two Greek words meaning returning home and pain. It is that deep longing for home, for the familiar, for your family, your tribe. It is a yearning for the past, homesickness for where you come from.
In Ecclesiastes 3.11, King Solomon says that God has set eternity in human hearts. We are created with a spiritual memory, an innate nostalgia for a home we have never seen. And this produces a forward-looking joy, a reminiscing about what is to come.
It reminds us every day who we are and where we belong. It can blow away anxiety and fear and fill our hearts with overflowing gratitude.
Maybe your life is really great today, the sun is shining and all is right with the world. Be grateful but remember that it is only a shadow of perfection to come. As CS Lewis said, ‘there are better things ahead than any we leave behind.’
Or maybe life is hard and disappointing. It is okay to be homesick for a place you have never been to. Let the reality of your eternal home comfort you and bring you peace.
Either way, let Kingdom nostalgia fill you up with optimism, Divine inspiration and endless creativity to live life well.
In every beautiful moment of celebration, in every disappointment or loss, let eternity continually remind you of its existence. This is not all there is.
There is a place where we belong.
Look forward in joy.