The Forgotten Good

What did you have for dinner four Wednesdays ago?  For lunch?

You probably can’t remember unless the meal was really spectacular or unless an associated incident—a pasta explosion, a flaming loaf of bread—cemented it in your memory.  That’s how the human mind works.  We forget loads of things—the contents of a million grocery lists, what clothes we washed when, old phone numbers—because we’re not capable of retaining all the information we have to hand.

I’d argue this has grown worse in our modern age, where we outsource much of our memory to devices.  I grew up with a landline and used to have my home number memorized; now, I don’t even know my husband’s cell phone number by rote since I simply have to tap his name in my phone.  I spend a good hour a day looking up bits of information in my work email.

So it stands to reason we forget God, too.  Or, rather, His works.

I say this because something interesting happened to me the other day. Two persistent prayer requests I have had were answered out of the blue.  Both answers came to prayers about situations I had prayed persistently about for some time.  And they were the kind of prayer answers that clearly were the results of God’s intervention.

I recorded them in my prayer journal. I said a little prayer of gratitude. 

The next day—the literal next day—was one of those days in which everything is on fire, everyone is grouchy, and everything is a nightmare.  I staggered through and at the end of the day, slumped into a chair and thought, God, I have been praying about this situation for a solid year now.  It’s hard to feel like you’re listening when you haven’t intervened, and…

I went to record the prayer in my journal and found myself staring two answered prayers in the face.  I had forgotten.  I had forgotten in the course of one whole day!  The immediacy of circumstance and the exhaustion of the moment wiped away my recollection of God’s recent goodness in the span of 24 hours.  Unreal!

Yes, I apologized.

But it did make me think differently about ingratitude.  Because I think a lot of us perceive ingratitude as a sort of spitting-in-God’s-eye, as a deliberate turning-away from thanking God for the good we know He does for us to dwell on what is bad and wrong and what we don’t have.  A selfish self-preoccupation.

But I am wondering if it is more common that ingratitude manifests as a benign neglect: a distracted and unintentional forgetting.

Imagine the healed lepers, after all.  They run to the temple and are pronounced clean and—oh! They have to go tell the family!  So they run to the family and friends, spare the good news, show proof to the skeptics, and then—hey, let’s have a party, because it’s been so long since we could celebrate, and—you know, I should really think about what comes next now that I’m back to living again, and—

And in the meantime, Jesus waits, bewildered.

It’s easy to condemn.  But we do it all the time, and I don’t think this is something we always do purposefully. Part of it is natural to the human condition—as the years go by, we forget stuff God did for us. Maybe not the big God stuff, but the times he answered when we prayed for something lost, or he delivered that request we were really hoping for, or he took that annoying-but-not-fatal health problem away. 

The way to combat it, of course, is active memory and writing it down.  Everything!

Write down your delivery from ingrown toenails and annoying people and bad jobs.  Write down the victories like a successful outpatient surgery or a delivery snafu made right or that person picking up the phone to call again.  Write it all down in a journal or in a list, and then make it a practice in your moments of “Is God even listening?” to open that book and read it.

You will be astonished at how much you cannot recall.

I have journals stretching back years of entries that are more or less God thank you and you are amazing and you did this marvelous thing that I asked for and wow how could I ever doubt you that five years later have not lived on in my memory except that I jotted them down. 

Have friends remind you.  Make notes.  To this day I encounter God’s presence every time I wear a particular robe, the pocket over which I prayed when I thought I’d lost my engagement ring.  (The ring had no reason to be there.  It was inside.)  So much of the Old Testament is God’s shock over being forgotten, a litany of righteous rage at Israel’s failed collective and individual memory.  But you can avoid that peril with some effort.

Fight it.

Fight it by writing it down.  By being present in moments and taking time to mark the occasion of gratitude.  By reviewing God’s goodness to you regularly and consistently and embedding that memory into who you are.  By contemplating His kindness not only in large things but in small. 

Remember, remember, remember.

It will change your understanding of God.


One thought on “The Forgotten Good

  1. Oh my, girl! How is it we aren’t sisters? I have so many journals dating back years! You are so right about remembering. My brain is so full of nonsense that there is little room for the good stuff (like last Wednesday’s dinner!). Another way to help remember is with a nightly examination of conscience. It’s like a highlight reel from the days events which also gives us an opportunity to chat with God about the good, the bad and the ugly. If your lucky, it will also help with sleep!
    Love ya!!


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