Are you a forgetful person? Or are you more like the Memory Man who can’t forget any of his memories?
Memory plays a powerful role in our lives. How we allow our memories to feed our minds and hearts can influence whether we become thankful or resentful people.
Let me illustrate. A counselor recently asked me to revisit a negative experience from when I was seven years old. He asked me to name the person and describe it encounter. After doing that he told me something very important: “It’s not your fault.”
He then invited me to forgive myself. And then to forgive that person. In that process, I realized I have been blaming this person for all kinds of problems in my life.
In letting go of the power to blame I’m receiving God’s power to be thankful. I’m not thankful for that experience, but my gratefulness has increased as I recognize that God redeemed me from even that. My memory now prompts gratitude.
My point in sharing this story is not to ask you to conjure up your worst negative memories. Instead, when negative memories pop into your brain to ask yourself how you can turn your regrets into thanksgiving.
Turning Negative Memories Around
If you’re like me, you have memories pop into your head at times when you did something silly, stupid, or even sinful. Levels of shame, guilt, or regret accompany memories like that. When that happens, try something like this:
#1: Lord, I remember the time when I did this. Describe it.
#2: When I did that I acknowledge that I was wrong. I hurt _________.
#3: Thank you for showing me mercy I don’t deserve on the cross.
#4: I receive and acknowledge your forgiveness for this _______. And I forgive myself.
#5: I choose from this day forward to turn every memory of this sin and the people involved as another reminder of your grace.
If your negative memory stems from being hurt by someone else, you may need a pastor or counselor to help you process this.
Now I want to leave you on a more positive note.
Remembering Positive Memories
Negative memories can dominate our minds unless we cultivate habits of positive remembering.
When Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, Joshua instructed a leader from each of the twelve tribes to build a pile of stones in the middle of the river as a memorial to themselves and future generations of how God miraculously delivered them from Egypt, preserved them in the wilderness, and brought them into the Promised Land. These became a prompt as future children asked, “What do these stones mean?”
We celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost so that we can remember. Our weekly worship services are designed to help us remember God’s activity in our lives. Even national holidays like Thanksgiving and Independence Day are designed to help us remember.
Do you do this in your personal life? If we could sit down over coffee, what are five times in your life where you’ve seen God show up powerfully? I think we all have stories we can tell. What if we made a regular habit to remember those stories and turn them into prayers of thanksgiving?
If we ever get the chance to have coffee, here are five memories you can ask me about. I’ve told one of these publicly, so I’ll give you the link:
#1: Taking the Perspectives class
#2: Called to be a leader
#3: People Specific Music
#4: Time Standing Still
#5: Man in the Pew (https://maninthepew.com/why-i-started-man-in-the-pew-jeff-sieh/)
Build a Memory Habit
When I worked for a ministry, one of my mentors challenged me to write down every time God answered prayer or gave specific wisdom. And then to reread that journal regularly and return thanks to God.
That’s a perfect segue into today’s gratitude challenge.
Grab your gratitude journal and find a quiet place. Take at least five minutes (fifteen if you can spare the time) to make a list of times when God has miraculously shown up in your life. Once this list feels solid, I would put it in the front or back of your journal so you can reference it frequently. Take time to remember in detail one of those times and give thanks to God. If you haven’t shared that memory with your family, find a time to do that.
If negative memories pop into your head, I would make a different page for those. Just write down a phrase that signifies that event and then thank God for one more reminder of your need for grace and mercy.
Lord, I have so many reasons to be grateful today. I remember your sacrificial death and resurrection as they give me hope that all my sins are washed away and all my negative memories can remind me of your grace. Thank you for the powerful ways you’ve consistently shown up in my life. Thank you for the people you keep bringing to me each day who bring me encouragement. Thank you for the chance to be used in the lives of others. Thank you for the Holy Spirit who helps me to see the truth and to experience abundant life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.