Updated: Oct 12
"Waybread" is food designed to strengthen travelers on a long journey. This little weekly column is intended to offer reflections that will strengthen and encourage you in your own long journey in following Christ.
Memory is a fascinating mystery. We can be in the middle of something boring and tedious or exciting and inspirational, but all it takes is the hint of an aroma or the sight of an autumn leaf or a chance note in a long-familiar song, and suddenly we're transported back to a memory of joy or longing or pain or sorrow. There's no telling. There's no telling what will prompt a memory, and no telling what memory will be prompted. As I said, it's a fascinating mystery.
It's interesting, too, isn't it, how hard we try to repress certain memories (and how successful we can be at doing so!) and how hard we can work to remember others (and how inept we can be at doing so!).
I'm struck these days by anniversaries in particular. It's funny how the anniversary of a single event can embody all the above experiences: joy, longing, pain, or a dozen other emotions simultaneously. This Friday is the 20th anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, and I've actually been looking forward to giving it some thoughtful reflection this weekend, both privately and at home with my family. That memory is filled with all the emotions above plus a slew of others like anguish, regret, confusion, hope, love, and helplessness.
In one of his novels, one of C.S. Lewis' characters says, "A joy is not complete until it is remembered." Our inability to recognize this is one of the reasons we aren't satisfied by trying to repeat happy experiences over and over again. We can't get the same thrill by simply repeating a lovely experience, we need to cherish it enough to give it its space and then simply move on to the next moment. But in the next moment–or another moment weeks, months, years down the road–though we may not be able to repeat it, we can remember it and know a fuller, richer, more perfect joy than we had in the first flush of joy.
And even in the hardest times, we can, if we are brave enough, find God revealed. In his book The Soul of Prayer, P.T. Forsyth observes, "Whatever drives us to Him, and even nearer Him, has a blessing in it." When we make our remembered pain an offering of praise (yes, it is possible to do this), we can "thank Him in the fires, review life and use some of the energy we spend in worrying upon recalling and tracing His goodness, patience, and mercy" (Forsyth).
Even in the hardest times, we can, if we are brave enough, find God revealed.
Memory is an essential part of being human. It helps train us to think with an eternal perspective. (This is pretty deep so stay with me!) Eternity is not endless time. God is eternal, He is outside time; in fact, He created time. There is real value in remembering a thing–it's not the dregs of a cup of coffee with grounds swimming in the bottom of your mug. The original pleasure is one thing, and the remembered pleasure is a new thing, a richer, deeper thing, and when we choose to embrace the memory we get both the past and the present together in one new experience. Merely repeating past pleasures is like plucking flowers out of the garden of the past: pretty soon they just wither and die. But by not insisting on repeating the pleasure, by choosing to remember it and value it for what it is and was, we preserve it and enrich it. We become in a small way a little like God, to whom all times are present–none have passed; none are yet to come. In this way memory helps us mature as Christ-followers.
Okay, that's enough philosophy for one column! I will say, though, that if memory is an essential part of being human, when we begin to lose it, whether through disease or neglect, we sort of lose our moorings, like a ship without a rudder. We lose sight of both where we're going and where we've been, and wind up not even knowing who or where we are.
I do pray (and am praying even now) for those of us who through disease are losing the blessing of memory. I pray that God would be present for you and those you love in fresh and wonderful ways that speak peace and comfort to your deep soul and that you, in your turn would know a blessedness that is still richer and more beautiful than mere memory because you know first-hand the presence of God more richly and beautifully.
And for those of us whose "memory muscles" are weak or atrophied through misuse or neglect, I pray that you would choose to celebrate the best moments of your past without needing to constantly pluck them up and examine them again and again. I pray the mercy and grace of Christ for you to allow those memories to pass, and that, releasing them, your heart will be free to take hold of joyful new ones. In this way, I hope that you'll carry a bouquet of remembrance through all your days rather than just a handful of withered flowers (this is what I call Remembering Forward).
And for all of us I pray that you would have the grace to bring even the most painful memories with you into the presence of God–right to the foot of the Cross, if you will. And I pray that you would offer them up to Him, not so much to get rid of them, but to have them redeemed and turned into something beautiful and even precious to you. I learned how to do this 20 years ago, and I still do it imperfectly, but I know that Jesus will be glorified in it because in the offering of it my pain, grief and sorrow are taken up into His and transformed.
These are hard things, but I pray that you have gained some kernel of hope and encouragement from these words. I'd love to talk and pray with you about your own experiences with this, so please feel free to reach out to me–emails work best! (email@example.com)
"A joy is not complete until it is remembered." C. S. Lewis
Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.