We have a memory that is made to fail.
Science has found that because our brain can only handle actively processing so much information at once, it stores different sorts of memories in different ways and even allows us to “forget” unimportant things. (Think of how overwhelmed you’d be if you could remember, with clarity, every single grocery list you’d written for the past decade). Because of this, sometimes we lose memories, or find that our recollections change or grow fuzzy over time. A recent project, in which scientists asked a group of people to describe the details of an event on the day it happened and then once more ten years later, proves this: the researchers found over half the respondents could not properly remember the event despite believing they could, and either added key details or omitted them. Their memories, in other words, simply weren’t reliable.
But this isn’t necessarily bad news. Memories that we lose are certainly available in God’s great record; the God who counts hairs on human heads and notices the fall of a sparrow surely has the film of our entire lives in His hands. Even what leaves our minds cannot be entirely gone beneath the watchful gaze of an omniscient God. And sometimes memory failure can even be a blessing. Victims of great trauma often report that they have no recollection of traumatic events; their minds have shut away the memory and made it inaccessible.
It’s no surprise, then, that God views the act of remembering as one of importance that requires intention and will. In Joshua 4, God instructs the Israelites to create a stone monument to memorialize their crossing of the Jordan. In Luke 22:19, Jesus breaks bread and drinks wine with the disciples, instructing them to hereafter “do this in remembrance of me.” God knows well that our memory fails – and that when our memory fails, so does our attention, our care, and our devotion.
For humans who are always living in the present moment, remembering is hard. The great works that God did for you five years ago can lose their luster next to the problems of today. The fundamental nature of Christ’s act of love can be lost when our focus wanders to other things. So active remembering is a practice that Christians must cultivate daily. Here are four aspects of active remembering to consider:
Active remembering demands attention to the Word of God.
Jesus promises His disciples that the Holy Spirit will “remind you of everything I have said to you” (14:26). For modern believers, God communicates through His Word, and it is the Word that the Spirit will recall to us. In light of that, well…you have to read the Word. You can’t remember what you never experienced.
Active remembering requires us to pause.
The Israelites had just crossed the Jordan when God asked for them to set up the stones. They had a lot of very practical things they could have been doing, but the act of remembering required them to take a break from their duties and heed what Joshua was doing. The enemy of remembering is distraction and busy-ness: pause during your day and dwell on the Lord.
Active remembering is an act of intimacy.
Sure, memory serves a practical purpose: we need to know where it was that we put our car keys. But it also serves an emotional and spiritual one. Memories can fill us with pleasure or pain; we can linger over them; we can return to them for wisdom or good cheer or nourishment. Memories guide us. Christ asking the disciples to drink and eat in remembrance of Him was not a mere act of empty ritual. It was a request for His followers to return in spirit to that moment when they were with Him, to linger over it, to let His presence in their lives guide their future acts. When we take the time to remember God and what He has done for us, when we linger over His presence, it’s an emotionally and spiritually fulfilling act.
Active remembering is not just for our sake.
When Joshua sets up the stones to commemorate the crossing of the Jordan, he tells them: “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It’s worth noting that the stones are not just there for the Israelites; they are there for future generations. Active remembering matters because it permits us to share God’s goodness with others, to pass on the stories and the moments and the triumphs. Active remembering then is an inherently communal act; we’re not meant to remember alone, but to share our memories with those who come after us. Whether you have children or not, there are those in your life to whom you may pass your stories down. Don’t hesitate to speak about your memories of life with God.
The more we cultivate active remembering, the deeper our gratitude will become, the richer our knowledge will become, and the more blessed we will be for the sharing of what we know. If you have a wonderful God memory you would like to share here, feel free to do so – and if not, I encourage you to sit and actively remember the ups (and downs!) of your walk with God, and to consider sharing them with those who are willing to hear.
We must not forget.