Do you remember the smells of your teenage years? I do. There are a few distinct smells that stick with me no matter the distance of years traveled beyond them. The carpet walls of roller-skating rinks are one of mine. Chances are, though twenty-five years have sped by, you could walk in your former skating rink, as I did recently, and still smell those carpet walls that reeked of teenage angst and body spray. The smell may or may not still be there, but you can still recall it like it was yesterday. And for the record, my old skating rink was repurposed for something else, but I could literally (Rob Lowe voice) still smell it. At least I think so. The memory can be as unreliable as a fresh coat of camouflaging cologne.

The other smell that has stuck with me is that of certain liner notes from CD booklets. An almost syrupy sweetness. I still remember the rush of a freshly opened haul of new music purchased at the local brick-and-mortar music store. And the specific indescribable smell of a handful of albums released in1995 and 1997, respectively. (I’ll leave you to guess which ones.) Regardless of my potentially odd liner note sniffing, today’s post certainly isn’t about decades (though I can certainly wax poetic about all things movies, music, and culture in the 90s), nor the leisure activities of our youth. It’s not even about our music purchases when we had more disposable income. There is however, a tie to the main topic of nostalgia. But what exactly is nostalgia? Is it a good or bad thing? Let’s define it…


noun: nostalgia; plural noun: nostalgias

1. a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

2. origin: late 18th century (in the sense ‘acute homesickness’): modern Latin (translating German Heimweh ‘homesickness’), from Greek nostos ‘return home’ + algos ‘pain’. 

Homesickness. Returning home. Pain. I liken it to the feeling of leaving the house of your parents for college or life as an adult and coming back to see the changes made to your room for the first time. You’re “home,” but it doesn’t feel the same. Even if your childhood room has remained a museum to your youth…something is off.

So, here’s my food for thought…Nostalgia is a human misplaced longing for heaven.

A place we are familiar with yet have never been to. Nostalgia is an illusion. It’s when we feel nostalgic for the “good ole” days, the music of our youth, or a certain time in your life. However, I propose we are actually longing for our original design…to walk unveiled with our Creator. Oh, to be sure, we’ve caught a hazy view of heaven; we’ve tasted momentary and fleeting slivers. Scripture talks about it in 1 Corinthians 13:12, calling it a reflection. “For now, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now, I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” This may come in the form of a meal with people you enjoy, through a song that enraptures our heart, or the interlocking fingers of a loved one’s hand in yours.

But it’s the echoes of Eden that call, and like Samuel, we oft mistake it for the voice of Eli. Or we apply the longing to a time in the past that we cherish. You know, where we only remember the good things about a time and place and conveniently forget the bad? The music of our formative years. Heck, even the smell of the carpet walls in the skating rink or cd liner notes. Or maybe we apply it to the dream of the future—if I just find “the one,” get that job, achieve that goal, make this much money…Just like any illusion, nostalgia is a tricky beast…cause what we think we want—do we really want that? I mean…we don’t really want the smell of carpet walls, do we? I think not. And I sincerely hope not.

There is a reason that “Once upon a time…is so deeply embedded in our fairy tales and stories. It resonates, because we know the truth of another time and place of perfection in the core of our souls. Though it’s perhaps long forgotten, covered by earthly clutter and the dust of our noisy lives, the nagging feeling remains. In the farthest corner of our hearts the feeling that C.S. Lewis described as the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.” “Once upon a time unlocks a memory we still only see dimly, of a place we have known, yet have never been. St. Augustine so aptly once said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Forever calls with an unbalanced exchange, but the answer requires our acknowledgment and response.

So, what are we to do with our ache…our longing…our nostalgic pangs of desire for what once was, and will be again? I propose we feel it, and when we’ve recognized it, we thank God for it and redirect our hearts to the Creator. Enjoy the meal of heavenly fellowship, the song that ruptures your heart, hold tight to the hand of your loved one. Then pour out each sliver of heaven experienced into praise, and look to the one who will finally and with great joy call us all home for good one day. He alone fulfills. He alone is worthy. Hallelujah. 

Also…middle school boys, when it comes to cologne or body spray…less is still more…please don’t forget that.

Other thoughts you might enjoy: What Toy Story Can Teach Us About Identity And Purpose, Living With Margin, Shift Happens