All these things are so wonderful to watch – all the more wonderful from the watching being from a quiet room full of flowers, instead of from the din and dust of the battlefield, good though that was when God gave it. Only now it is easier to trace the working out of these “parts of His ways” and to almost see the still-unrevealed thoughts that links them. 18 January 1927
For several years, Dave & I have been reading aloud our lives as recorded in my journals of the past two decades. On such occasions, after breakfast, we advance to the living room and settle into comfortable chairs. I open the “current” red leather journal to the place we left off and, fortified by steaming mugs of coffee, we continue our journey back in time. We are continually amazed at what we have forgotten – and how differently events and feelings seem from the perspective of time.
Remembering. . . different times and places, the changing ages and stages of our three children, visits to aging parents no longer with us, struggles and heartaches that seemed insurmountable at the time, joys and experiences that make us ache with laughter even all these years later. We re-live graduations from high school then college, first meetings of the persons that would become our children’s life partners, weddings, the lengthening list of grand-babies, beach vacations with extended family and growing relationships with cousins. Life after retirement. Loss and gain. Woven throughout the narrative are beholdings of everyday wonders, captured in words and images. In the remembering, we experience anew the interior landscape of our souls throughout the passing years.
Something good happens when we remember. We see patterns not apparent at the time. We see how we survived situations for which solutions seemed impossible. Hurts and grievances fade with time; many forgotten completely. Memories sustain us during the rough patches in the present as we witness God’s provision in the past. The overwhelming takeaway, in the looking back, is the observation of God’s Presence – even when, at times, He didn’t seem present. And how He worked through those very events – outer and inner – for His redeeming purposes.
Lilias understood the importance of remembering. March 9, the day of their arrival in harbor of Algiers. was celebrated each year. That day was set aside to remember the outworking of God’s grace and to give thanks for His Divine Presence. For their 25th Anniversary, she wrote a booklet, “Backwards and Forewards” detailing the “poetry of God’s ways” through their first quarter-century. The year before her death, confined to bed, she looks back over almost forty years noting that in the remembering – “It is easier to trace the working out of these ‘parts of his ways’ & to almost see the still-unrevealed thought that links them.”
In truth, we are good little forgetters. Caught up in the considerations of today or the concerns about tomorrow, we forget the context of our personal past. Fortunately, God who created us, recognized our inclination to forget. He not only instructed His forgetful children to remember but provided ways and means to do so.
Consider his wayward children: the Israelites. God guided them out of their bondage in Egypt into the Promised Land. Along the way, when He intervened with protection or provision or promise, He likewise instructed them to build altars – with stones of remembrance. He instituted feasts and special days to recall His mighty acts of love. To remember. . . Moses, who never did set foot in the Land of Promise beseeched them: “Remember what your children have not seen – tell them what great things God has done – that you saw with your own eyes!”
Jesus, likewise, told His followers to remember. Remember? Remember that last supper with His forgetful disciples? He offered them the cup then the bread saying, in essence, “This is my body and my blood given you. When you eat the bread and drink the wine, do this in remembrance of Me.” And ever since, over the millenniums, Christians gather regularly to eat and drink – and remember.
Why is it so important to remember? Especially when some – maybe many – memories are, in fact, painful. What is the value of resurrecting the past – old wounds and hurts and losses – when they may best be forgotten?
To begin with, to better understand ourselves. We are the sum of all our life experiences – for good or for bad. Perhaps we can be more generous in our judgment of our younger-selves from an adult perspective. New York Times columnist, David Brooks, recently wrote: “The important part of people’s lives is not what happened to them but how they experience what happened to them.” He notes that “remembering” involves more than a recitation of past events rather “seeing it from wider perspectives, coating it with new layers of emotion, transforming it, so that, say, an event that was very hard to live through is now satisfying to remember.”
Furthermore, we can learn important life-lessons by remembering. Many years ago, the president of the college we attended, preached in our local church. It was a privilege for our congregation to hear him. We were thrilled to spend some time with him, afterwards, on the drive back to the airport. I’ll never forget his advice couched in the context of having been a historian before an administrator. “I love history because I believe we can learn from history. We don’t have to repeat our mistakes.” He went on to tell us that he takes every opportunity to share with young couples a lesson he wished he had learned earlier in his marriage: to make time to be alone together – whether a weekly date night or a monthly getaway. “No matter how busy you are you are never too busy to neglect this most important relationship.” He went on to express his hope that their experience could be redeemed as a lesson to others.
Some of the most powerful lessons in human history are acquired by remembering. Who can read the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust without revulsion and outrage? Through the years, many survivors have achieved liberation from their inner demons by telling their story with the purpose of reminding us that these things did happen. And could happen again. If we don’t remember. After several decades of relative silence, memorials have sprung up throughout the world in places of suffering. So that we don’t forget. So that we don’t repeat our inhumanity.
Recently I read a book in which the author made an interesting statement about ones life in review: “We can choose our own narrative.” Is that rewriting history, I pondered? Denial? I concluded that “choosing ones own narrative” had less to do with tampering with facts and more about how we regard them. Do we view disappointments and setbacks with bitterness and anger – casting ourselves as victims? Or do we choose to see the good that came from those very things: lessons learned, God’s redemption of our tangle of sorrows, tragedy, even sin? Victors!
This week, as a nation, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day after one of the most difficult years in recent memory. The presidential election dividing the country politically; the pandemic isolating individuals socially. We can focus on the collateral damages from both. Or we can “choose our own narrative” and remember all things good and glorious. The comforting ordinariness of everyday blessings. In the words of the Apostle Paul; “. . . if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
Remember. And give thanks.