I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever. (Psalm 45:17 NIV)
I was at the Factoria Mall last weekend, where several businesses have vacated the premises in the last year. I could not help but marvel to myself how different and somewhat deserted the mall seems to have become, a distant atmosphere from the memory of good times and enjoyment. Gone is Goldberg’s Famous Delicatessen, with its wonderful menu and regularly occurring large family dinners. There is no more Regis Salon, where I would have my hair cut by a close friend of mine from college and have engaging reminiscent conversations. My business at Factoria now is solely shopping and entertaining my son at the Playtorium, and yet I still get a warming sense of satisfaction from being there, spurred by the fond memories. Fast changes have made this circumstance a recurring one throughout Seattle and the Eastside. The place where I met Nicole and the place where I proposed to her are both gone as well, but the cherished memories still make the locations special to me regardless of what is or is not there now.
Good memories drive and inspire me, while bad ones can make me overly cautious, deliberate and analytical. I pride myself on having a very extensive, photographic memory, but that can just as easily work against me as for me. One of my biggest struggles is to not let memories of embarrassment, error or harsh criticism (which I have had quite a bit of from various teachers and peers over the years) get the better of me or even define certain elements of my life. I find I often have to ask myself: where is God in these memories? Is He trying to remind me of something, put something on my heart, or point me in a certain direction? Or is my mind just wandering where it really shouldn’t? Being able to discern the presence of God in the chaos of my thoughts is the key to pursuing versus avoiding focus on memories that will ultimately define my actions. It is an ongoing and often difficult battle.
For the past two weeks we have been looking at the story of the judges of Israel and the patterns that emerged in the lives of the Israelites. God’s people turned away from Him, engaged in evil ways and worship of idols, and suffered extensively as a result. Then God would raise up a judge who would guide them to repentance and back into His righteous ways. When the judge died, however, the Israelites—like shoppers who don’t remember the mall as it had been—forgot the good memories of God and were led astray again, driven back into darkness by the power of evil thought. Somehow, they would be so consumed by the world around them, they could not remember how good life was with God, the one true Master, as their king. This cycle reaches its climax in 1 Samuel 8, when Israel insists on having a king so they can be like all the other nations. Samuel tries to warn them what their life will be like under a human king, a path to slavery without intervention from God, but with no memory of God to draw on, they persist.
Paul tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). I believe this statement sums up his entire life and provides a model for avoiding the pitfalls of lingering bad memories. Before he met Jesus, Paul committed a number of atrocious acts, yet the sole purpose of him remembering his former life was so he could learn from his mistakes and move on. We must do the same. Not much of Paul’s early life is mentioned in the Bible; he is remembered for his acts as an apostle sharing the gospel of Jesus, invoking the power of God, and ultimately building new positive memories for others to experience and be saved by. Memories that are shaped by God, and the people and places contained within, are the most powerful. Which of these are the most precious to you? And how would you ultimately want to be remembered?
As for me, God has given me confidence, a family, and purpose. These are the memories I want to retain and build on.