A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a friend of mine, and he said something that made me a bit envious.
We were talking about something that had happened to him several years before. Or maybe it was something that had happened to me — the context isn’t that important. But in passing, he mentioned that he rarely thought about things that happened in the past. It wasn’t like he avoided thinking about them, it was just that they didn’t come to mind — his brain naturally focused on the future.
Later that night, I got to thinking about it, and found that I wished my brain worked like that, too. Because all too often, I find myself thinking about the past — and wishing I weren’t. When you get right down to it, I have a bad memory.
Not “bad” as in “tending to forgetfulness” — I have moments when things slip by, but for the most part, my memory is pretty close to photographic. I mean it’s “bad” as in “working against me.” And when that’s the case, having it be so good in terms of retention just makes things worse.
I kid you not, there are times when I’m taking a shower or reading a book or taking care of Sean or typing away in the office, and my brain, which tends to make odd connections as a general rule, will bring up some disaster or clash that happened to me a month or a year or 25 years ago. I’m not exaggerating — I’m 41, and I get moments of rejection or failure from high school popping back into my head. And if I don’t catch myself quickly, I try to rewrite history in my brain, making them come out some other way … a fool’s errand if there ever was one.
This has ramifications, needless to say. Do you know how hard it is to “forgive and forget” when you find yourself incapable of forgetting? It tends to turn into “forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive and …,” sometimes ad nauseum. Can you imagine how difficult keeping a positive self-image is when any wipeout you’ve had in your life can spring back into your thoughts at random moments, in full color HD with Dolby 3.1 surround sound? Trust me, it’s about as fun as it sounds.
I don’t know that I’ve had more trouble in my life than the average person. It does seem like I’ve had a lot — much of it of my own making, or patterned for me at an early enough age that it’s almost hard-wired into my neurons. But it feels like more than anyone I know … because it all keeps coming back again. And again. And again.
That’s where faith comes in.
23-plus years ago, I recognized that I was not a success at running my own life, and I gave it to Jesus to run instead. (Which is really how I looked at it at the time; I’m the only Christian I know who accepted Jesus as Lord years before realizing He was my Savior too. No joke.) I have faith that He really did take my life and make it His own to use for His purposes. And I have to get a new grip on that faith, every day.
I’ve been through things that I wouldn’t wish on the worst driver on the road — an abusive and drunken father, my parents’ divorce, some savage bullying in school, repeated times out of work or in dead-end soul-draining jobs, difficult financial straits, marital strains of my own, and more recently my son’s illness and my mother’s death. I have faith that God’s promise in Romans 8:28, that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purposes,” is true, that all the heartbreaks and screwups are raw material for something glorious that He’s making. And I have to get a new grip on that faith, every day.
I have a son who is having to learn to walk and communicate and eat all over again, and a job search that had to be tabled a year and a half ago, and a novel that no publisher so far is interested in. I have faith that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life and my family’s lives, one that will be revealed in His good time. And I have to get a new grip on that faith, every day.
And when those memories of my sufferings and my shortfalls come clogging up my cerebrum, when I’m reminded of everything that went wrong in my past, I have faith that while my forgiving (of others, of myself) often needs work, God’s forgiveness is perfect, it’s inerrant, and most of all, it’s done. Just because I recall them doesn’t mean He does, and He has declared that in His eyes, I’m clean.
And I have to get a new grip on that faith, every day.
Sometimes I don’t want to, I get tired of believing. I let myself sink into the Slough of Despond or the Swamp of Despair or the Protected Wetlands of Protracted Whining or whatever. But even when I stop trusting what God has said, He doesn’t stop. And patiently he peels me out of the muck, rinses me off, gets my hands gripping that faith again and my feet back on His path. He never leaves me for long.
So while He didn’t choose to bless me with my friend’s gift of what Robert Heinlein once called “a trained forgettery,” He has given me something far better: Himself. I am not my memories. I am not my past, or even my present. I am His possession, His workmanship, created — and daily re-created — for His will. He said so. As long as I remember that, everything else will work out.
And as you know by now, I’m reeeeeeeal good at remembering.