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The Persistence of Memory

I will perpetuate your memory through all generations; therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever. (Psalm 45:17 NIV)

I have always had an extremely photographic and extensive memory. Quotes, details, numbers, and a vast array of seemingly random stuff have a way of sticking in my head, often without my trying. Naturally this has helped shape me into the deliberate and detail-oriented person I have become (and is one reason why I love trivia and following sports), and has proven to be a useful asset in my various research and accounting jobs.

But my memory often works against me as well. On many occasions I find myself suddenly remembering or thinking of something I hoped to forget a long time ago. A lot of embarrassing moments, criticism, and utter failures have lingered with me over the years, giving me sour moments, extended periods of depression, or a negative state of mind that is very difficult to snap out of. I find myself fighting a constant battle inside my head, struggling not to let the bad memories take over and bind me with feelings of worthlessness and misdirected anger.

Our memories are tools that drive and develop us. We relish our love and triumphs, learn from failures, and let essential facts and directions guide us. My constant challenge, like most others, is to treat them as guidelines and not let them become obsessions. God tells us:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV)

Memories of specific experiences led me to become a believer. I was raised in an agnostic home, but I had plenty of exposure to Advent and Christmas music while a member of the Northwest Boychoir. I always looked forward to the chance to read Scripture at our Lessons and Carols concerts and considered it a privilege, even though I had of yet no idea of the deeper meaning. And I was struck by how everybody at each church we performed at seemed to share a sense of peace and common purpose that I constantly felt I lacked as a child. In college, I visited my roommate’s church a few times, and each time received an unconditional warm welcome and felt a sense of deeper connection to something greater. These memories inspired me to attend a church regularly with friends after I moved back to Seattle. Regular fellowship and engagement in music and Scripture inspired me to commit my life to Christ a few months later.

Even as a Christian, however, my mind battle is still very present and intense, as I go through the stressful routine of everyday life. I often cannot put aside my past tendencies or tune out bad memories, old and newer, without turning to God for help. But it is not enough to just focus on past memories of experiencing God, powerful as they are (feel free to ask me about my week at Tall Timber Ranch in the summer of 2006 for an especially moving example). Like everyone else, I often need to be reminded of God’s presence and power through new experiences with Him. These in turn will serve as current markers, guiding me in the present and looking toward the future.

The Apostle Paul’s words lay the groundwork for winning this battle: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 NIV). Easier said than done with our human nature, but if we accept the fact that we all need our “God memories” refreshed every so often, then we can open ourselves to Him more easily and experience the transformation only He can provide.

So as we come together at Creekside in the Dream Again sessions this weekend, one question we may want to consider is: how can we create the best opportunities for members and visitors alike to gain new memories of encounters with God?

Daniel can be reached by email here.

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