The Spiritual Exercise of Remembering

The Spiritual Exercise of Remembering

Linda & I, on our wedding day

Linda’s mother suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for many years. This horrible illness caused her to slowly lose her memory. One result of her memory loss was an increase of fear. For example, one afternoon Linda, her mother Martha, her father Del, and I were shopping in a mall. At one point Linda and her father left for an hour to shop together while I stayed with Martha. We sat together for a minute and then she looked at me, her eyes filled with fear, and said “Where’s Del?!” “He’s shopping with Linda. He’ll be right back,” I responded. This put Martha at ease. But only for a few minutes. Forgetting what I had just said, Martha looked at me again and said, “Where’s Del?” “He’s with Linda. He’ll be right back.” This happened several times in an hour, with Martha forgetting, me reminding her, she again calming down, then forgetting and filled with fear, asking me “Where’s Del?” and me reminding her again. Martha not only had forgotten what I said to her, but she had forgotten a more basic truth, which was: in Del she had a husband who would never, ever leave her or forsake her. He was always by her side, pre-Alzheimer’s and post-Alzheimer’s.

There is a “spiritual Alzheimer’s disease” which results in forgetting the many times God has rescued and delivered us, provided for us, and been with us. Such forgetting breeds fear. The more one forgets the deeds of God in one’s own life, the more one becomes fearful in the present moment.

The antidote to this is: remembering. “Remembering” is huge in the Old Testament. The post-Exodus experience of Israel is grounded in remembering. The Jewish festivals are remembering-events, such as Passover when the head of the household sits with his family and asks, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In response they then remember the past, and how God delivered their people out of bondage in Egypt. This remembering, which reminds them of God’s past faithfulness, brings new hope.

My spiritual journal functions largely as the memory of the voice and deeds of God in my life. I take times every year to re-ponder my journals. In doing so I remember what God has done for me, how he has delivered me from bondage, and how he answered my many prayers. I re-read of past times when I was afraid, or worried, and then re-read how God came through and worry dissipated. In this way I do not, I will not, forget the deeds of the Lord. The result is that I always emerge from the discipline of remembering with renewed hope in the present.