Have you ever noticed how vital our memory is to our personhood? Have you also noticed how much emphasis God places on memory? Our memory makes up who we are as people. It builds up over the years—one memory upon another—and it is woven into our very being, influencing our decisions, our emotions, and our thought processes.
Without memory, life loses its meaning. When people lose their memory, they lose more than just the knowledge of their name or background. They lose their identity. They don’t know who they are, what they stand for, whom they trust, or how to make sense of the world.
That is why storytellers love to make their characters lose their memory. It throws everything off equilibrium. Want a plot twist? Just make the main character hit his head real hard and lose his memory. Tada… New beginnings! Or how about in action movies when the bad guys like to wipe out their victim’s memories so they don’t know what has been done to them? Think Wolverine. Or even how the concept of torture in order to gain information goes back to gaining access to a person’s memory.
Naturally, we do our best to suppress our bad memories and highlight the good ones. If at all possible, we would like to block the bad ones out completely. Forever. However, our memory as a whole is what makes us who we are—good and bad. It is the specific set of memories each of us has that makes us who we are today. If a bunch of us were to be reprogrammed with a different set of memories, we would become very different people.
And so we make do with what we have. Since we cannot get rid of our unpleasant memories, we eventually learn to keep them in the back of our minds so they don’t resurface to haunt us. At the same time, we keep constant reminders of good times. That is why pictures and photographs have become such a big part of our lives. We freeze those moments in time so that we will be able to look back at them and relive those cherished moments.
More often than naught, these precious memories are shared with loved ones. Relationships are very much built on going through experiences together (which, in time, become memories), and continually making more memories together. Good memories together strengthen the bond between each other, while bad memories have the potential of threatening the relationship.
All that being said, although our memories define us, we also have the tendency to forget. All memory is stored in our brain, but like those that we shove into the darkest corners of our memory, not all memories are stored in the most accessible recesses of our mind. Some are easier to recall, while others are “lost” somewhere in that mass of neurons, blood capillaries, and other mush.
In order to locate these lost memories, we need to do this thing called remember. Then again, remembering is not always easy. Some memories are brought to the surface without any effort, some require a little bit of thinking, and others require a lot of thinking. Reminders are also very helpful in bringing back to mind something that has become forgotten.
As the mind makes connections between one instance and another, a fuzzy memory has the potential of clearing up into a vivid picture once again. These forgotten memories that are brought back to light have a powerful way of stirring up emotions that might have been lost with the memory.
This is why we often try to remember the good times when a relationship goes through a rough patch. Reminiscence of good times past has the ability to reinstate trust and confidence in a person and in the relationship. And the same goes with our relationship with God.
Throughout the Bible, we are constantly reminded to remember. Remember what God has done for us. God was faithful to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He will be faithful to you too. David writes in his psalms time and time again about how God has delivered him in the past and will deliver him again. The prophets often reminded the people of Israel of God’s faithfulness to their forefathers and used that as a premise to call them back to Him.
Fast forward to the New Testament, the author of Hebrews devotes an entire section of his text to remembering the faithful (Hebrews 11). When we remember the individuals listed in this passage, we also remember how God was faithful to them despite their frailties and their failures.
Before Jesus was arrested, He broke bread with His disciples and told them to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). His mandate to go and make disciples of all nations was in remembrance of what He had done on the cross. The early church and the apostles’ ministries were then based on the memory of Christ’s time on earth, what He did, and what He will do.
While it is true that we should not live our lives focused on the past in the same way that we should not drive looking only at the rear view mirror, we also cannot live life without ever looking back at the past in the same way that we cannot drive without ever looking into the rear view mirror.
The past may be in the past, but we can continue to glean from it. Just as we should remember how God was faithful to the people in the Bible, we can also look back at God’s continued faithfulness to His faithful followers throughout the rest of history, and most importantly, we can look back at how God has been faithful to us in our own lives.
When life gets tough, and our relationship with God seems to be going through dark times, we also become forgetful. We become discouraged and fearful because we forget how God was there with us every step of the way last time. So treasure the memories you have with God as much as you treasure the memories you have with your human relationships. That way, when you pull a lost memory of God back out of “forgottenness,” it renews your trust and faith in Him, and allows you to face your next trial with full confidence that He will once again bring you through.
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