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Yearning for the Past

Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? (Deuteronomy 4:32)

Lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic.

The dictionary definition of nostalgia is “a wistful desire to return to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends.” While most people are undoubtedly yearning for a return to their life prior to COVID, I’ve strangely been yearning for a return to a way of life that existed years before COVID came on the scene.

Don’t get me wrong—I like my computer and my Apple TV and my Google Nest—but this pandemic has made me nostalgic for activities and behaviors that existed long before these technologies came to be. Things like expectation, patience, exploration, civility, and hospitality.

Psalm 5:3 says, In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation. This verse reminds me that it’s not possible to “wait in expectation” when immediate gratification is the norm.

I remember as a small child smelling the homemade apple pie baking in the oven, watching the minutes tick down on the timer, and salivating as I anticipated Mom cutting wedges of the delicacy after the dinner plates had been cleared. I also remember as a college student waiting in expectation for a letter from my boyfriend, my heart pounding in anticipation of discovering a envelope with an upside down stamp inside my dorm mailbox. Nowadays, instant messages have replaced handwritten letters, and short phrases with little to no punctuation have replaced long, thoughtful sentences. I can’t help but wonder where we would be today without the letters of Paul or the letters our American forefathers wrote to family and friends.

Though I check my messages, my Instagram account, Twitter, and email every day, none of it affects my heart the way Mom’s desserts or a much desired letter used to!

Ecclesiastes 7:8 reads, The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Waiting is often tough, but patience in waiting has the benefit of making us more compassionate, thoughtful, and humble—traits we could all use a bit more of as we endure this pandemic together.

I remember having to practice patience as a child while I waited for the item I desired to appear at Christmas or on my birthday—and not a moment sooner. I could beg and cry, but it wouldn’t change anything. However, the waiting changed me. The thing I thought I couldn’t live without would often become outdated or something better would take its place. It took a while, but I now know that decisions made under pressure or on the fly usually yield poor results. That’s one reason why Amazon.com is so successful. Whatever we need (read: want) we can get in 24 hours. That explains why our homes fill up with junk, things that don’t fit, and items we will use only once. Though I am an avid supporter of Amazon, I’ve started to leave items in my cart for weeks at a time while I assess the true value of ownership. More often than not, I end up deleting items, which only goes to prove that patiently waiting does pay!

Another thing I miss from earlier times is time itself. Stores were closed on Sundays; sports took place on Friday and Saturday nights only; and teachers gave minimal amounts of homework. Since home computers had not yet come into existence, I remember having ample time to play and explore. Ask any psychologist and they will tell you that unstructured play—excluding video games—is important for a child’s healthy emotional development.

I don’t have children, but as a former school teacher I worry about the demands on today’s children. It seems as if each moment of every day is accounted for, and the world is too unsafe to allow a child to venture out alone. When I was a kid, Mom would push me and my siblings outside and tell us to come home when she rang the bell—a huge cast iron thing Dad had mounted to a pole in our backyard that could be heard a mile away. I loved roaming in the woods, picking wild grapes, and catching tadpoles in the ditch beside the house. As I got older, I was allowed to stay in my room and read as long as my chores were complete. My mom, a former 4-H leader, made sure she kept us all busy with cooking classes, sewing lessons, gardening, electrical work, carpentry skills, and various crafts. She insisted that we learn skills that would come in handy later in life.

This pandemic has created space for me to revisit some of those learned skills. I’ve been baking bread from scratch weekly and sewing masks. I pulled out my old knitting needles and started a sweater. I canned green beans, froze tomatoes, and dried herbs—all from my own garden. The benefit? I’m never bored or stressed, and I find myself at the end of each day feeling successful, whole. Proverbs 22:6 states, Train children to live the right way, and when they are old they will not stray from it.

My favorite day as a child was Sunday. Saturdays were for chores, but Sundays were for rest. After mass, we would head to my grandfather’s house where we would always find an aunt and uncle and sometimes cousins. There would be the rich smell of coffee brewing in the percolator and at least two dozen donuts waiting to be enjoyed. Mom would cook a big meal on Sunday afternoons, and sometimes a relative or church member would drop by, drawn by the rich aromas emanating from the kitchen. There was always space to fit one more chair around the big dining room table.

No matter how many people came to eat, the table had to be set perfectly: forks on the left under the neatly folded napkin, knives and spoons on the right with the blade facing inward, and wine glasses centered above the plate. The men stood until the ladies were seated, and no one could take a bite until all the food had been passed and Dad had picked up his fork. We children remained at table until we were given permission to clear everyone’s plate. Then, and only then, were we allowed to retreat from adult conversation. These rules of decorum, which were as rote to me as the Lord’s Prayer, kept me grounded and gave order to my life. Naively, I assumed every household practiced them.

When my husband and I first got married we hoped to recreate the hospitable atmosphere we had both grown up with. We encouraged people to “drop by” whenever they felt like it. I kept homemade baked goods available for when they did. Unfortunately, very few people took us up on our offer. Very few. Just two.

I think this is what I miss most about my childhood and about life in general: the ease with which people descended into others’ homes and lives, where no invitation was needed because you were always welcome, and where there was a delicious baked good waiting to be eaten and an extra chair waiting to be pulled up to the table. I don’t think life was easier back then—in fact, I think it was harder—but I think it was kinder.

This pandemic has made me realize how very isolated we have become as individuals and as a culture. I know I can’t return to the life I had 50 years ago, nor do I believe we can return to the world that existed just six months ago, but I do have great hope in Christ knowing that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

In the meantime, I will patiently wait in expectation for whatever is to come. And while I wait, I will bake pies, write long letters, delete items from my Amazon cart, knit a sweater, dry more herbs, and pray for a time when one of you is able to take me up on my offer to just drop by. All are welcome.

THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND IS Come to the Table

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXXxLwxfo0U by Sidewalk Prophets.

Lyrics: "Come to the table. Sit down and be set free."

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