For me, the most basic things are often the hardest to remember.
For instance, when I was in fifth grade, we were making our annual Thanksgiving trek to visit my mom’s side of the family in St. Louis. We were about 45 minutes into the drive when I looked down and realized that I’d managed to forget my shoes. I had a pair of Mary Janes for church, but these would be woefully inadequate for playing in the woods by my grandparents’ house. And so, we turned around and went back to Kansas City, so I wouldn’t have to go barefoot. To this day whenever we are leaving on a family road trip, everyone not-so-surreptitiously looks at my feet to make sure I’m wearing shoes.
Another classic moment of forgetfulness happened yesterday afternoon. Since I was getting ready to leave for the summer, I spent a few minutes cleaning out my car. After all, no one wants to return after 2.5 months to a messy vehicle. I took out all the trash, organized the glove compartment, and even made a daring peek under the seats where I found some unused post-it notes. Because I helped some friends move last weekend, my back seats were still down. So I reconfigured the back seat and trunk before returning to my front-seat tidying. But in my trash-removing zeal, I forgot to close the back door. Until, of course, about 20 minutes after a thunderstorm. Oops.
As if these moments of spaciness weren’t bad enough, I also have a terrible memory for details. As a historian, this is especially frustrating. When I’m teaching, I make up for this by bringing really detailed notes. So if I can’t remember a name or a date, at least I know where I to find it. But this poor recall gets very frustrating, especially when I’m trying to tell a historical story without my cheat sheet. For instance, I cannot even count the number of times I tried to tell the story of my favorite 20th-century Hungarian conman Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln only to say something like, “So there was this guy… and he pretended to be someone he wasn’t… and it was really crazy!” Forget being a steel trap; my mind is more like a strip of lint-covered Scotch tape. Very little sticks to it.
Harmless though this forgetfulness can be in everyday situations like tennis shoes and Hungarian conmen, it has a darker side when it comes to my faith. Even though I have been consistently reading my Bible for years, and even though I’ve heard literally hundreds of sermons about God’s love, I still have a hard time remembering it. For some reason, this truth bounces off my lint-covered Scotch-tape heart. No matter how hard I try, information about God’s love and care for me tends not to stick.
Since I’m a historian, you think I’d be extra skilled at remembering past examples of God’s goodness. In theory, I should be able to recall them at the drop of a hat, and stories of His faithfulness should continually be at the tip of my tongue. And while this is sometimes the case, and I have moments of being overwhelmed by God’s goodness, provision, and love, these reflections are far rarer than I care to admit. More often, stumble forward in nonchalant forgetfulness, simply wandering from one thing to the next. When life is going well, this forgetfulness doesn’t seem like a problem. Yes, it would be better to remember, but it doesn’t feel urgent. But when life gets tough, when I am afraid of the future or feel ashamed about the past, this forgetfulness can become catastrophic. In these moments of difficulty, when I am blindsided by this destructive form of “soul amnesia”, I forget. I forget God and His goodness. I forget that He has been with me in the past. I forget all about His love. Rather than treading water or reaching to the side of the pool for help, I flail and thrash and start to sink. It’s awful. But what can I possibly do about it?
The answer is fairly simple. In the words of the great philosopher Mufasa, “Remember who you are.” Especially in moments of difficulty, God calls us to remember who we are–and Whose we are. He helps us by using other people, who encourage us and speak truth to us. He speaks to us through His Holy Spirit, who lives inside us and who helps us “call to mind everything [Jesus] taught” us. And He does this through His Word. But the truths don’t magically jump off the page and into our brains; there is no passive spiritual osmosis. Rather, we must be diligent to read it, to spend time daily soaking it in, and sitting with its Truth. In doing so, we are reminded of our identity as God’s children, and we learn that our lives truly are “hidden with Christ in God.”
As I have been struggling lately to grasp and hold onto the reality of God’s love, the movie Fifty First Dates keeps coming to mind. In this film, Drew Barrymore’s character Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss. When she wakes up each morning, she has completely forgotten everything from the day before. Despite this obvious challenge, Adam Sandler’s character Henry falls in love with her, and (spoiler alert!) the two eventually get married and have a family. But Lucy’s memory problem doesn’t magically go away. So what is the solution? Henry makes a short video about their relationship and their family, and Lucy watches this every morning when she wakes up. Before she begins each day, she is reminded of who she is and where she belongs.
I think the same must be true for us. If we are going to flourish in Christ–i.e., if we want to live consciously in light of God’s love and our place in His family–then we have to start each day by letting Him remind us of who we are. This is absolutely essential to an abundant life in Christ. No, reading the Bible won’t magically make all of your worries, fears, and problems go away. But it will remind you of the God who cares for you in the midst of these things. And this awareness of God’s love, my friend, is unbelievably important.
Alright, that’s enough for today. I have a flight to catch. I should probably make sure that I packed my shoes…