The opening lines of the Beatles hit song, “Yesterday” go like this:
Yesterday All my troubles seemed so far away Now it looks as though they're here to stay Oh, I believe in yesterday.
The song is 55 years old this year and it’s one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music. It’s one of those songs that starts off slow and isn’t afraid to take its time. The song tells the story of a young man who had his heart broken by a girl who broke up with him. Because of that, he longs for what was and pines for what could have been.
I think there is something about idealizing the past that resonates with all of us.
It’s easy for what was to be framed by a yellow glow in comparison to the troubles of today. As the saying goes, we often think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence - even when the other side of the fence is the past.
I know this from personal experience. For most of my teen and young adult years, I idealized the past and wished I had grown up in what some people have called “simpler times.” And, I’m not talking about the 1950s, I’m talking about as early as the turn of the century. Maybe even the roaring 20s.
There was something about those periods of time within the movies that seemed golden and ripe with possibility. Many of the artists and authors we studied in school seem to have flourished during that time – Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso.
The problems of yesterday can seem so much simpler than the problems of today because it’s easier to minimize the pain of the past.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Midnight in Paris, you know what I’m talking about.
The main character is a writer on vacation in Paris when he gets picked up at midnight by a car filled with none other than the Fitzgerald’s, as in F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. This is the first of many nightly adventures where he gets transported back in time to mix and mingle with the legendary authors and artists who lived in Paris during the 1920s. He begins to wish that he could live in that golden era.
Not to ruin the punch line of the movie for you, but he eventually learns that his love interest in the 1920s wishes she could go back in time to the turn of the century. They can’t seem to decide on a decade in which they both desire to live. It turns out that we all idealize what was – at the expense of what could be today.
I think that a lot of us are pining for the past during these stormy times.
And yet, the past had its own set of problems that have faded, or worse, been entirely forgotten. That is the nature of time.
I met with a friend for zoom lunch the other day. Because that is our life right now - Zoom hangouts and 6-feet social distance beach chair coffee meet ups with friends. It had been a few years since we he seen each other, and she shared that there was something I said to her a few years ago that she thinks about often.
She shared that I said that since God is outside of time, why couldn't we pray for something that happened in the past? Wouldn’t he answer it? She said that she often remembers that when she forgets to pray for someone and makes sure to pray for them in the past. I was so encouraged by this.
First off, I realize this is a funny thought. And, I still remember when it first occurred to me.
I was on a treadmill at the gym and I felt horrible because I told someone that I would pray for them about a particular event and totally forgot to. It was in my guilt that I started thinking outside of the box… And, I realized … if God is outside of time then it doesn’t matter WHEN I pray. It just matters that I prayed!
Which means that I could pray for my friend now. Heck, I could pray for the whole course of human history before me, today.
What’s interesting about doing that is that when we pray for the past, we have no way of knowing whether or not that prayer made a difference. And yet, also, very clearly know whether or not it did. It is an interesting way to pray.
You begin to notice that prayer may not necessarily be about influencing events in your life or the lives of others and more about influencing how you feel about them.
And transforming who you talk to about them – a God who loves us.
What if we didn’t pray just about the present and the future, but also the past?
I feel so upset about a past that has brought the racial injustice that is systemic today, and has created a society where men and women are not treated equally. I’m upset about a past that has set our culture up for failure in being able to address and minimize the impacts of this pandemic.
Instead of being upset… what if I prayed?
What if I prayed for things that were never mine to influence in the past? What if I prayed for the men and women who fought injustice to make as much progress as we have today. What if I prayed for the leaders of the civil rights movement and for those at the forefront of women’s rights. What if prayed for those we lost?
In doing so, I somehow feel more connected to yesterday and today. It feels easier to let go of what was because it was never mine to influence in the first place.
Is it silly to pray for the past? I don’t think it’s any sillier than praying for the future. Neither of the outcomes are up to us.
It’s really an exercise in trust. In letting go. In letting yesterday be what it was and the future be what it will be. This doesn’t mean we don’t try to make a difference. It just means that despite all our efforts, the outcome is not up to us.
It never was. It never will be.
The nostalgia of yesterday is as beautiful as the melody of the Beatles song. And we can play it on repeat in our minds if we desire – like a cover song remixed a thousand different ways.
Or, we can choose to write a new song.