Let me tell you a story about the power of memory. I have a friend who was known for complaining about his horrible father. To spend any time with him at all was to hear the bitter stories and to hear them often. The shouting, the punishment, and the humiliation. It was always front and center in his mind, kept accessible by a thousand angry retellings.
Not long ago, this friend was talking about cars and he said these words: “You know, it was just like that time my father and I went on that road trip.” Sometime later he said, “My father bought me a watch just like that, and I still have it.” Then, he let this slip: “Dad and I wrestled so hard one night we broke a lamp. Man, was mom ticked off!”
Now, I fully accept that my friend’s relationship with his father was a bruising, as he says it was. Yet when I heard these more positive comments slipping through his usual banter, I realized that he had chosen to live in the glare of his angry experiences but not in the light of good he had known.
He could recount nearly every punch, every minute restricted to his room, and every embarrassing episode in front of his friends, but the good things about his father had to sneak out, as though making their escape through gaps in prison bars. You got them in little drops when he talked, while the bitter history came in torrents.
Finally, I turned to him and said, “You know, you’re living a life deformed by bitterness. The tragedy is that enough good things happened to you to heal your deformity. You just refuse to live in the light of those memories.”
We talked about this for quite a while. At one point, I said, “Let me describe your father to you.” As I did, he interrupted. “That’s not my father,” he nearly shouted in anger. “That’s someone else!” I replied, “Buddy, I’m only repeating what you’ve told me. If it sounds like I’m describing someone else, then it’s only because you aren’t choosing to remember that version of the man. That’s why he’s a stranger to you.”
Now, I’m not much for psycho-babble. I just know that in the same way we use our rear view mirrors to align ourselves when we’re driving a car, we use our memories to align our lives. This doesn’t mean we should edit out all the bad and tell ourselves only lies. That’s mere deception. Yet some of us rehearse the harsh moments unceasingly and discard the kind and loving experiences. It’s obvious what this does. It makes us harsh. It makes us bitter. It leaves us dark and hardened.
For all of us, there is the reality of our past and then there is what we choose to remember of it. Perhaps I should say, there is the way we choose to remember. This choice shapes us profoundly. So choose wisely. Remember the painful and wounding episodes. Forgive. Let them go. Get help if you need it. Yet cling also to the good you’ve known, even if it came from people who treated you horribly otherwise. There is healing for our wounds in this. There is wisdom in it. It also helps us glean a bit of what God intends for our lives.
That’s it. As you step into the blank slate of this New Year, remember well. Oh, and I told that friend I was writing this without using his name. He said, “Tell ‘em I spent too long in a cave. Remembering the good pushed me out of that cave and made me see there’s more to life and more to me than the pain.”
There it is.
Have a good weekend. And go Redskins!
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