My grandmother passed away in 2010 after suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years. Many aspects of her memory had declined over those years, but there were still memories that remained.
Decades earlier, she had made a project of writing memoirs of her mother’s life. She would talk to her mom on the phone every Friday. Then, in her own handwriting, she wrote out the story of her mom’s life — how she lost her parents at a very young age, was adopted by a family in Germany, and then moved back to the States and married a man named Benjamin Graffin.
My aunt Carol would read those memoirs to my grandmother in her final years and months of life, and there would be a connection. Many memories had faded and disappeared, but when those things were read to her, there was an obvious spark.
The way the human memory works (and doesn’t work) is a mysterious thing.
Don’t You Remember?
When it comes to remembering God’s faithfulness, we can be especially forgetful. One striking example of this is found in the book of Exodus, chapters 14 and 16. In the span of just a couple of chapters, we see the Israelites delivered from slavery and brought through the Red Sea, and then they are grumbling about not having food to eat.
We want to say to them, “Don’t you remember what God just did for you? The water stood up like two walls, and you walked through the Red Sea on dry ground! Don’t you think that the God who can do that is also capable of giving you food to eat? Trust him!”
And then, of course, we remember that we do the same sort of thing. God brings us through a trial, answers a prayer, and within a few days it’s almost forgotten. We’re already looking to the next struggle on the horizon and finding reasons to gripe and complain.
We have to find ways of remembering God’s faithfulness.
God’s Good Memorials
In Joshua 3, we read of an amazing miracle God performed for his people. He caused the Jordan River to stop flowing so they could cross on dry ground into the Promised Land. God then instructed them, through Joshua, to gather twelve stones from the Jordan to set up as a memorial. One man from each tribe was selected to take a stone from the riverbed. Joshua set them up as a sign, as a remembrance, of what God accomplished for his people on that day.
God is so gracious to us. He knows we have spiritual amnesia. He knows that we are forgetful. So he gives us memorials. He commands us to do certain things that will serve as reminders. Here are six practical ways, among others, to combat spiritual amnesia.
1. Think. What are some events that you can look back on as a pile of stones marking a defining moment for you — a moment when God showed his power in your life, when he was guiding you in a very clear way, when he answered a prayer, fulfilled a promise? “I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:12).
2. Thank. Engage your heart in gratitude for what he has done. “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1).
3. Tell. Once we’ve spent time remembering and thanking the Lord for the great things he has done for us, the joy of those memories should overflow in our conversations with those around us. In Joshua 4, we find this instruction specifically regarding children: “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground’” (Joshua 4:21–22).
4. Traditions. As you think about holiday and birthday traditions, consider how you can incorporate ways of telling the stories of God’s faithfulness. A good resource for exploring this theme is Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noël Piper.
5. Transcribe. Keep a journal. Write out prayer requests, and then record the ways in which God answers those prayers. When you’re feeling discouraged, look back on those records of God’s faithfulness.
6. Taste and See. The ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and baptism are profound ways of remembering and proclaiming what Christ has done. God is gracious to give us vivid reminders that incorporate our various senses.
In the Lord’s Supper, we take in our hands the bread and the cup. The senses of touch, smell, and taste are all involved as we partake of a meal representing Christ’s death in our place. For the one being baptized, it is a most memorable experience as he or she is immersed in water. And as the rest of us participatein baptism through our presence, we see with our eyes a dramatic parable of death, burial, and resurrection.
Let us not forget. May we be people who fight spiritual amnesia with God-given means of remembrance.
dedicated to P.M.