The discipline of remembering

This morning I called my mom for a quick chat and she reminded me that this week was “a bit of an important week…do you remember what happened this week?” Although this kind of conversation is rather typical, I responded that, no, I could not recall the importance of the dates ahead of me, and she proceeded to remind me of two wedding anniversaries, two birthdays and, most importantly, 7/11 day (where you get free Slurpees from 7/11 gas stations). My mother has a steel-trap of a memory; things go in and they never come out. She remembers events with such specific details that sometimes I feel like she must be making it all up. “Anne, do you remember what we were doing 9 years ago today?! We were driving through Utah on our way to Moab! We stopped at that little coffee shop in Grand Junction—oh, you must remember the one!?”

My mom’s remarkable ability has always challenged me to remember. Not in a nostalgic way, but in an informational, you need to know this, kind of way. The kind of remembering that reminds you of your story, where you came from, and events in your life. She has written several accounts of our ancestors immigrating from Norway and Sweden to settle in the mid-west. Her most recent research was dedicated to me, my siblings, and her five grandchildren. Although it is not uncommon to check my email and find the full known story of a Hans or Lars somewhere back in our family tree, reading my daughter’s names in this dedication made this story feel more important, connecting another link in a small, typical family and whispering, you are part of this story. These are your people. This is where you came from. Remember.

Christians have a memory problem. The whole story of Israel can be boiled down to forgetfulness. When we open Exodus we find a people who had forgotten God calling out to a God who had not forgotten them. Much like the cycle of the judges, Israel repeatedly forgets God’s faithfulness and character, and consequently forget who they are. Moses is gone on Mt Sinai for a few days and they forget Yahweh and make a new god. They forgot the plagues, the Red Sea opening before them, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, the manna, meat, and water that God provided. They forgot who God was, and because they forgot, they acted like he didn’t exist. Sometimes when I read Exodus it feels ridiculous. How can you forget the pillar of fire that led you each night? Or the mysterious manna that gathered like dew in the desert? How could you forget what God had done? 

But the reality is, we are exactly the same. Remembering is difficult in the midst of our busy days and future plans. But if Christians hope to live faithful, joyful, and Jesus-centered lives, we cannot afford to forget. We must practice the discipline of remembering. Remembering God’s story– for the Christian, our story, is a fundamental Christian practice. Humans are narratival beings. We live in and embody all kinds of stories that shape us, give us meaning, tell us how to live, what to buy, who to associate with–all of our choices and actions demonstrate a story we believe. To be in Christ means you are embodying (or living in) the story of God–  that is what it means to be a Christian. Christians believe that God’s story is true–His account of what humans are for, our purpose, how we are supposed to treat one another, how we use our bodies and our money, how we should speak–all of our actions and choices should align with the story God tells about himself and his people. When we forget God’s story we inevitably start living in another story. These stories rarely reinforce the Biblical narrative, but rather begin to recast where we put our hope and what we look to for identity.

Practicing the discipline of remembering pulls us out of false stories and back into God’s story. The Bible is God’s story for us, so that is the story we must abide in. Scripture is the primary way God ingrains his story into our hearts, minds and actions. If we don’t know the story of God, we cannot live it. The Old Testament is full of reminders about the forgetfulness of God’s people. “But take care, lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Deut 6:2). “Remember how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness (Deut 9:7). Remember the Sabbath day” (Ex 20:8), “Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he has uttered” (1 Chron 16:12). Again and again, remember! We must remember what God has done and who he is. His character is always revealed in his actions, so to remember his actions is to remember who he is. 

When I was pregnant with twins the hardest part was abiding in God’s story, and church was often where God’s story was most difficult to remember. When people found out I was having twins a few things would happen– a wide-eyed look of surprise, then the mental math criss-crossing their faces—I have one toddler and I am barely surviving, how are you going to do it with two?, and finally a closing statement that ranged from “I hope you feel really supported,” to “you must be getting a full-time nanny,” to “I’m so glad you are quitting your job,” (I didn’t, I wasn’t and I wasn’t). One transparent 23-year-old said what most people communicated to me when he exclaimed, “OH NO! I am SO sorry!” 

How people responded to the good news of having two kids at the same time revealed the stories they lived in. You aren’t going to be able to do this. Mothers should stay home. Children are so much work. I am barely surviving. And these stories were coming from God’s people. Where were the reminders of the Christian story that God is sovereign and he gave you twins? That he will sustain you even though this will certainly be difficult? I wasn’t looking for false comfort, I was looking for Biblical comfort–the comfort of firm faith and a loving Father. I wasn’t hearing that story very often. We must be people who remember the story of God and abide in it, not forgetting who we are or abiding in an alternative story. 

When we remember rightly, we are able to hope accurately. The power of remembering is not about nostalgia, it is about the right orientation before our eternal and good God. When our hearts and minds are dwelling in His story, promises, and salvation, we are living in a story of hope. John’s Revelation paints the glorious picture of the new heavens and the new earth. Paul exhorts us to remember the hope we have in heaven and live accordingly. Hope is kind of like future remembering. It is looking at the past, taking account of how God has acted in real time with real people in real circumstances, and applying what we have learned to the future. If we do not know the story and character of God in the past, we cannot envision what he might do in the future. 

Attending a women’s bible study last week, this very question came up. How do we respond to God when it feels like he isn’t here or doesn’t care? Or in other words, what keeps us hopeful when life gets hard? The answer is the story of God. When life is hard, we need the psalms proclaiming the provision of God and accounts of his works. We need the prophets revealing a God who remains faithful. We need the Gospels showing us Jesus who brings life to broken, weary and hopeless people. The story of God is a story that brings life out of death, that sets captives free, that promises (and demonstrates) the authority of the one true God as he acts throughout history. When we feel hopeless, we must practice the discipline of remembering and allow it to recast our vision of what God might do in the future. 

Remembering what God has done, and rightly hoping in what He will do, gives us what we need to abide in Christ today. Today, you and I need to participate with God in his story. Here are three ways we can practice communion with God so that we remember his story.

  1. Read the story every day. One of the easiest ways to abide in God’s story is to read it regularly and allow the words of God to dwell within you, reshaping your hopes, teaching you your history, and revealing more of God’s character. Reading scripture helps give us eyes to see God’s provision and presence because it centers us daily upon Him.
  1. Communion is an act of remembering as a church. “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) At this supper, Jesus is inaugurating the new covenant. His body and His blood will be the sacrifice poured out for the atonement of others. Do this in remembrance of me. Jesus is calling all who are in Him to physically and spiritually participate in a meal that will commemorate all that he has done. This humble meal might feel mysterious or mundane, but it points to a greater spiritual reality and reminds us of the work of Jesus.
  1. Rely on the Spirit. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit…he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn 14:26) One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to bring to remembrance everything Jesus said: the Holy Reminder. Before the Spirit came, Moses tells Israel to wear the laws of God around their necks and to put them on their doorpost so that they wouldn’t forget them (Deut 6). But the prophets promise a new covenant in which God will write his laws on our hearts. The law will no longer be external but will become internal by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As we participate in Christ by his Holy Spirit we are given supernatural power to remember the Lord in our days. 

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