Devotion in Motion: Did the good old days ever exist?

10 Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.  Ecclesiastes 7:10 (NKJV)

By Bro. John L. Cash, “Country Preacher Dad”

I overheard my wife talking to a friend the other day. She said, “John is the most nostalgic and sentimental person in the world.” I thought about that for a moment, and I realized there’s a lot of truth to her statement. So much of my free time is consumed with reading stories, watching movies and vintage television programs, and looking at pictures of people who are living well-ordered, pleasant lives in simpler times.

I think this all started for me when I was a first-grader. I loved to look at the illustrations of the family that we read about in the Ginn Basic Readers. They  lived in a world where everyone had what they needed and everybody was safe. But for me, the fixation didn’t stop there. I didn’t just want to read the stories or look at the pictures. I wanted to climb into the book. I wanted to live inside the stories. It was like I was peeping through the keyhole of  Paradise, longing to be welcomed inside by the people living there.

As I was growing up, my grandparents always talked about how life was simpler when they were growing up. Because of that, I assumed my parents lived in kind of an idyllic world when they were growing up, too. There was a part of me that realized that this was not so—I mean, World War II  surely provided its share of hardships.  But, hey, “The Waltons” lived through the Great Depression and everything always worked out for them in 44 minutes. Things like that, and the fact neither of my parents ever talked much about their childhoods and teen years helped to cement the “idyllic childhood” notion in my brain. I always pictured that the Church was perfect back then, too.

Last summer, while cleaning out a closet in the house I grew up in, Spencer found a box that none of us had ever seen before. It contained all the mementos my father had saved from his high school days. My sister and I were amazed because we didn’t even know the box existed. And for the first time, I got to see what my late father was like when he was a teenager. Because he was a reserved and taciturn man, I always assumed he wasn’t all that attached to the trappings of adolescent life. But looking through his box made me realized that he and I were an awful lot alike. He had saved the printed paper napkins and place cards from every banquet he had attended. He had saved every letter and graduation card he’d received.

But I also found something in there that changed my pre-conceived notions about how the church was back in the “good old days.” In the bottom of the box was a mimeographed sheet that had been handed out in the church my father had grown up in. It was dated from the late 1940’s. On this paper the minister was expressing his concern about a situation in the congregation. It seemed that a lot of the young people in town were arriving for Sunday School but not staying for the morning worship service afterward.

Instead, they stood on the sidewalks outside the sanctuary, laughing and visiting, which caused a disturbance during the eleven o’clock service. Other unsupervised youngsters left the church grounds after Sunday School for destinations unknown. The minister wrote that most of the young people doing this were not accompanied by their parents. He wrote that he hoped this situation could be remedied because worship service was important.

Upon reading this, I suddenly realized that the churches back then weren’t perfect like I’d imagined them. They had the same sorts of problems that we hear people talk about today. Because of that, we shouldn’t spend our lives imagining a time when congregations were like the one from “The Andy Griffith Show.” And we shouldn’t hop from congregation to congregation just because the one we’re attending isn’t perfect. In fact, if we ever find a perfect church, we must be careful not to go there because we would ruin it with our many faults and sins.

The longer I live, the more I realize that it’s not the past that I’m nostalgic for. The “problem-free-days-of-old” never existed. What I’ve always truly longed for is the perfection that God will bring about when He restores all things on the last day. Until then, let’s spend our hours doing His will “on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Dr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 27 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days has a desk-job at a public school and teaches Latin on closed-circuit-television.) He and his lovely wife, Susan, live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the members try not to advertise their petty differences but strive to work through them in love ). The Cashes have two sons, Spencer (age 21), and Seth (age 18), who live in the parsonage, too, except when they are away at college. He would love to hear from you in an email sent to countrypreacherdad@gaggle.net.

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