Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Who Can Forget Those Moments?

We all have certain memories so intense that, even decades later, our minds can see them as clearly as in the moment they happened. Some are a pleasure to relive: a brilliant sunrise or rainbow; a clear night in the country; a first kiss; the best birthday present ever. But there are equally vivid memories that we wish came with "Delete" buttons: a roomful of classmates taunting "Stupid, ugly loser!"; words of cold contempt from a youthful love interest; an employer's angry scolding in front of half the office.

The actual events may or may not have been particularly significant overall. But they all have one thing in common: they are accompanied by intense emotion. Apparently the human brain is so wired that vivid feelings trigger "burning" of accompanying events into the conscious memory--not a function without practical use. A moment of intense fear or guilt may well "leave a mark" that keeps a person from doing some foolish thing a second time.

But most negative memories have less-than-positive aftereffects. Many people live under a constant burden of guilt for past mistakes, convinced they have permanently rendered themselves unfit to accomplish anything worthwhile. Even positive memories can have negative effects; there are people who waste decades of present moments trying to recapture, or brooding over the loss of, some moment now past. The mid-life affair with someone who "makes me feel young again"; the post-bereavement mourning and seclusion that drags on for years; the endless complaining that "nothing ever measures up" to a "past perfect" experience--all are examples.

The Bible has a lot to say about "right" and "wrong" remembering. "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm," Moses exhorted the Israelites (Dt. 5:15, NIV). "I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago," sang the Psalmist Asaph (Ps. 77:11). Conversely, Paul speaks of "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" (Phil. 3:13), and God Himself says of His repentant people, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Heb. 8:12). It seems that God would have us remember the good He has done--and forget the evil we and others have done.

Doing the first item is actually key to overcoming our frequently intense difficulties with the second. While we may never completely rid our minds of troublesome memories, we can displace unpleasant thoughts from the center of constant attention by bringing better ones to the forefront. And a good place to start, when it comes to burning the good memories firmly into our brains, is to make a list of God's blessings--past, present, and future. If anyone has trouble, rereading the Bible with an eye out for God's promises and expressions of love should help.

One thing worth always remembering is not to take our all-powerful, all-caring, all-sufficient God for granted.

Who can forget those moments
When joy runs deep and pure:
An evening with a loved one;
Days when success is sure;
A view of gentle beauty;
A shining touch of light:
Who can forget those moments
When everything is right?

Who can forget those moments
When pain stabs sharp and strong:
An agonizing illness;
Some great unpunished wrong;
A mocking word of anger;
A graveyard in the rain:
Who can forget those moments
When all seems grief and pain?

Who can forget those moments
When God is clearly seen:
A rainbow, or a flower;
The springtime's budding green;
A stirring note of music:
Think on what God has given,
And take time to remember
Those moments sweet with Heaven.

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