The Author

Memory

I’ve always thought of memory as something of a mixed bag, some things pulled out of it unpleasant, some things joyful. I’ve also thought of it as somewhat uncontrollable, popping up at the most inopportune time.

These conclusions have been based upon the idea that memory has to do with the past, with “what happened,” a reasonable conclusion since a memory is built upon an event, something already experienced. Reasonable, but inadequate. Memory is more about the future than the past because memory is what helps us as we face future events.

Consider those “bad” memories, the ones everyone says that they would just as soon forget. When they appear, it’s as though we have been transported back in time to the place and the pain. But, if we take a deep breath, we realize that is not what is happening at all. We’ve not gotten into a time machine and returned to last week or last year. What if, instead of a threat, those memories were a warning, a reminder of what we don’t want to do, be, or experience? What if those memories shaped our behavior for the good? As odd as it may sound, those memories are not threats, they’re blessings. They have the power to change how we live today and tomorrow.

What is true of those moments is even truer of “good” memories, those whose visit we enjoy. They carry within them the promise of even more happiness. One of my favorite preachers, Fred Craddock, is fond of saying, “We look forward in memory.” Memory shapes our expectations. We would be different people if we lived in the confidence that past joy is simply prelude to a wonderful future.

Jesus said as much when he told his disciples “to remember.” In I Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul quotes Jesus as telling his disciples to observe the Supper in memory of him. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you do remember the Lord’s death until he comes.” Did you notice? The death is not a pleasant memory, but it is a good one. It shapes us, but not only us; it also shapes the future. That’s what memory can do. And that’s a blessing.