About a month ago, I discovered the guy that I “dated” when I was 17 years old had finally acquired a Facebook account. Hello, 2012.
Well, welcome to the party. Can I figure out your whereabouts now? Are you still dating the girl you dated after me? Have you gained weight? Figured out how to drive? Grown a beard? Did your high school band win a Grammy?
Then the bizarre blasts from the past started happening at uncomfortably close intervals. Status updates. Tweets. Blog posts. Instagram uploads. And, as one might expect, these moments left a strange, vaguely satisfying, somewhat elusive feeling in my chest. I needed to know more. When I found myself knee-deep in a stranger’s Facebook photos wondering who so-and-so ended up going to that-or-this with, I realized I’d gone too far.
So as my phone rang, my twitter feed updated and Facebook of years long gone scrolled endlessly across my screen, I got to thinking: What’s the difference between a healthy remembrance of the past and a nostalgic yearning for something that no longer is? And when we go digging into our histories and the histories of our friends, at what point are we no longer searching for memories but trying to make the past the present?
Nostalgia’s Fine Line
Nostalgia is a perplexing emotion; it comes at times we least expect it, and it can leave a strangely unsatisfying taste in our mouths. Its residue is a memory for the way things might have been, sometimes coupled with the desire to relive some of our finer (or not so fine) moments. The most troubling aspect of nostalgia is that its effects can be deceiving, overpoweringly so. And lately, all these feelings are exacerbated by the technology that fills up our days.
I probably wouldn’t have even thought about my high-school boo if I hadn’t stumbled across his sister’s status update, only to notice he had recently posted a link on her wall, that led me to a picture, that led me to a text message, that led me to confusion. This confusion had no place in my life—I was settled, content, perhaps even bordering on exuberantly happy. Yet, this Facebook nostalgia creeped in. And these creeping feelings can leave us weak, allowing us to succumb to emotions we haven’t felt in years.
Worst of all, nostalgia is a sentiment completely devoted to the past.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t call up old friends, check in with those that used to be close to us, or reminisce about events and people we used to revel in. But there’s a fine line, and crossing it can sabotage your contentment. Seeing someone’s name on Facebook? No line crossed. Doing an advanced search so you can go through 300+ pictures deciding which person may or may not be their new girlfriend? Crossing the line. There’s a reason these people aren’t part of lives anymore, but social media makes those reasons difficult to abide.
So what exactly are we searching for when we search Facebook histories? A lot of times, it’s an attempt to recreate something, even if it’s just in our heads. The problem comes when we use nostalgia as a driving force for our actions, and we set up unrealistic expectations of what these histories can recreate in our present. Facebook has a way of making us into Israelites reminiscing about Egypt. We trust in our nostalgia, and not God’s plans for us.
I’m rarely one to talk about “God’s plan,” as I’m a person who detests the ideas of plans. But when it comes to social media exposure tormenting my past decisions, I definitely begin to wonder what exactly is in store for me.
It’s perhaps an overused verse, but it’s applicable. “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This verse resonates because it focuses on God’s promise for Jeremiah’s future, not his past. And, thank God, Jeremiah didn’t have Instagram.
Still, this verse, is often pulled right out of context. The verse that follows it gets left in the pages of the Old Testament.
“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and will bring you back from captivity.”
The Captivity of the Past
Memories are a gift, a blessing we’ve been given so as not to forget the pieces of our lives that have made us who we are. But when we find ourselves living in memories, we become prisoners of their deception. When we find ourselves wide-eyed and strung out on an old friend’s uploads, and we feel that aching in our chest that lingers somewhere between pain and nostalgia, we must remember to seek God and not a broken history.
When we feel the need to call up a person who no longer has any place in our life, perhaps it’s time to be calling on God, to be finding him with all our heart—and not the things He has removed from our life. No, we do not need to erase phone numbers, delete pictures, throw away letters or emails or gifts (although, it couldn’t hurt.) And we should not pretend certain things or people never happened. What we do need to do is remember that our past is not God’s plan. That our memories are ours, but our futures are God’s. Social media may be able show us what He’s done. Only He can show us what He’s going to do.
Liz Riggs is a freelance writer and English teacher in Nashville, Tenn. She eats stories like grapes and has a very serious appreciation for macaroni and cheese. Follow her on Twitter at your own risk @riggser.