Good & Bad Memories
Our perception of God, ourselves, and the world around us is largely shaped by what we have learned, not only through God’s Word, but also by our experience—our personal history. Our individual body of experience is made up of a collection of memories. These memories can be “good” or “bad” remembrances. They can be epochal events, or everyday occurrences. They can be highly emotional moments, or they can be relatively humdrum incidents. They can be memories of overwhelming love and kindness, or they can be memories of cruelty and brutality. Regardless, they have been stored in our conscious or our subconscious, they can populate and effect our dreams when we sleep, and they combine to form a large part of our personal vision and reality.
The Impact of Your Memories
As I pondered this, it was intriguing and amusing to think about the recollections that have remained in my mind for no particular reason, while other memories have vanished forever. I can’t remember what I fixed my family for dinner a week ago, but I can still remember the details of the outfit worn by a girl that I danced with at a sixth grade dance well over forty years ago. For those who are curious about junior high fashion in 1972, she wore black velour hot pants, a white ruffled blouse, and white go-go boots. You’re welcome.
Not all memories are as innocuous as dinner menus or party wardrobes. Many of these mental impressions are like emotional TNT, and they have the capacity to bring great joy, or great pain. I vividly remember the first time I kissed my wife; however, I also remember just as vividly her final breaths before she died a mere two weeks after her 47th birthday. Those memories will forever stay etched in my mind. One glows before me as a blessing, while the other reminds me of the curse.
Certain memories can have an enormous impact, not only on ourselves, but on generations that follow after us. I remember my mother, only a year or so before she died, telling my wife and me about huddling on the bed as a little girl with her mother behind a locked door, while my intoxicated, violent, grandfather was waving around a pistol, shouting and beating on the door. It was only then that I understood why my mother hated conflict, never argued, and rarely even raised her voice even slightly in irritation. Those kinds of memories shaped the way she communicated with her husband, her children, and other people for her entire life. Because I followed the example of my mother, this was an unconscious contributing factor in my own intense disdain for conflict, though I didn’t even know about that incident until I was forty years old.
All of us have recollections like that, for good or bad. Some are pleasing, and some are horribly painful. They often warp how we view ourselves, others, or God. Pain, suffering, and the accompanying memories that linger also have the strange ability to either drive us away from God, or to drive us toward Him depending on how we respond to the pain.
Three Ways to Deal With Memories
We can choose to deal with these memories in one of three ways. First, we can become angry and bitter, dwelling on our hurt, blaming God, and hating those who have hurt us. Painful memories often strike at our own sense of justice or fairness. We can’t see the purpose behind these difficult and incomprehensible providences, so we either try to attribute sin or evil to God and shake our fist at Him, or we turn Him into a less than omnipotent being, or we elect to believe that He doesn’t exist at all. The inevitable miseries of life become the result of mere chance with no overarching plan or purpose.
Or, we can descend into denial, building walls around the remembrances and pretending that they didn’t happen. This also results in the building of walls around ourselves, keeping both the memories and other people at arm’s length as a means of avoiding pain. To remember brings pain and to love or depend upon others brings the risk of more pain. So up go the walls of protection, which ultimately become a prison of our own making.
None of these alternatives bring healing. So, what is our other option?
The last and best option is to face the memories, to face the fire. This is the challenge confronting all of us when we incur hard providences in our lives; for if you have not already had pain or sorrow in your experience, rest assured that you will eventually. We must understand and accept that God uses and redeems bad memories as well as the good ones.
As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” God did not cease to be there or to speak when bad things happened, nor has He ceased to do so now. God, through the sacrifice of the cross, has conquered sin and death. He is working, even now, to eventually remove all the remaining ravages of sin. In the meantime, He is accomplishing this redemptive work in the midst of our pain. Facing our painful memories in the light of the cross, trusting that God is still there and that He still loves His children is one of the first steps to fulfilling the truth of Romans 5:3–4, that “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” And it is that great hope that enables us to persevere and conquer.
Have you experienced God’s redeeming power in dealing with your memories? Do you cling to His power to turn your pain to hope? Leave a comment below to share your story.