The fine balance between remembering the past and living in it

(Photo: Unsplash/Ella Jardim)

Am I hoarder?

I have a box where I keep every wedding and birthday invitation, conference keepsake and church service momento that I've ever received. I still have every ticket and programme from the many concerts that I've been to over the years (and I studied classical music at university, so there are a lot).

My room is full of trinkets from overseas travels – a mask from Venice, an innukshuk from Canada, a candle from Prague, a fan from Taiwan. I have most of my notes from school and university, 'just in case' I ever want to remember that Calculus rule or the name of that famous portrait that I studied once in Art History.

I've never thought too much about this. After all, I am a fairly sentimental person. But it struck me the other day – is this normal? Am I weird? Do I have a problem?

Oh my goodness. I think I'm a hoarder.

It is good to remember the past

My Strengths finder profile would tell you that this odd habit isn't weird at all, but fits within one of my strengths, Input, where people have a need to collect and archive, and they may accumulate information, ideas, artefacts or even relationships.

It means that I'm inquisitive, that my mind finds many things interesting, and that the infinite variety and complexity of the world excites me. That doesn't sound so weird, right?

While this behaviour isn't necessarily a bad thing, if it's not properly understood, developed and harnessed, it can lead to some less than desirable habits. In my case, I think this looks like the temptation to live in the past.

It's not bad to have reminders of the past. In the Bible, over and over again we see the Israelites build altars every time God does something amazing. This was so that in years to come,whenever they saw the altar, it was a physical and tangible thing that reminded them of what God did at that time.

I can see why the Israelites did this, as I'm definitely in danger of forgetting some of the incredible things that have happened. In this fast-paced world we live in, I think anyone would be in danger of that while running at a million miles an hour.

Every time I see that wedding invitation, I remember what a great day it was and how much I've learned from that couple's love. When I see the candle on my desk, I remember what a moving and profound experience I had in the Czech Republic. These physical reminders aren't bad in and of themselves when they are serving their purpose.

It is not good to live in the past

But where things can get dangerous is when we start to live in the past. When I dwell too often on these reminders and focus on them too closely, I can get stuck.

It's so easy for me to romanticise some of the seasons and events that have happened, and think of them as 'the glory days'. I won't deny it, I've had some great years with plenty of glorious moments, but there were also some really hard moments that I just gloss over.

As much as I would like to dwell in the good memories from the glory days, I need to accept and embrace the season that I'm in now. There is a time and a season for everything, and right now, God has placed me where I am for a reason. I can't afford to miss out on the amazing things that God is doing now because I'm always looking behind me.

Balancing the scales

Remembering the past is good. Reminiscing on the amazing memories and recalling the great things that God has done can be really special.

Living in the past however, to the point that you're not focussing on the present, is not good.

It's a fine balance, with everyone tempted towards one end of the scale more than the other. For me, my hoarder tendencies pull me towards reminiscing, but I know that balancing the scales is possible.

Perhaps I'll start by clearing out a few boxes.

Courtesy of Press Service International