What's At Stake If You Forget?

Dec 05, 2022

What’s the costliest “I forgot” experience you’ve ever had? Did you leave your purse in the shopping cart? Keys inside the car? A child at church? Did you have to apologize for forgetting a family member or close friend’s birthday?

What about your earliest memory? Mine is receiving a little stuffed animal, a mouse, when my younger brother came home from the hospital after a birth which both he and our mother barely survived. I wish I could say in the decades since my mind has been populated with countless vivid accounts of life, but my memory cards are more like a 2GB type than those of friends and family who were blessed with the 128GB versions.

Forgetfulness is one of our most fearful experiences, especially if it’s not situational but systemic. Whether slowly eroded by disease or destroyed suddenly by a traumatic injury, our remembrances are intricately and inexplicably woven into our identity.

Who am I without my memories?

Grief, after the death of a person or relationship, isn’t just about the “what might have been’s” for the future but the severing of shared memories. Jointly held memories are like a flourishing rose bush – rooted in the past and reaching towards the future. A remembrance held alone is like a cut dried flower – pretty and better than nothing, but devoid of vibrance and promise.

Advent is both a call to remember and anticipate. To gaze backward to see forward.

Mary had heard the messages, “Messiah will come” her entire life. In the synagogue. On the streets. At home gathered around the table for quiet prayers. In the noisy market as rough Roman soldiers wrestled another “tyrant” to the ground and Jewish fathers and mothers lamented the state of their nation.

“Messiah will come” could only be whispered, cried, shouted, or proclaimed because of the past promises of prophets, now dust in their tombs.

Mary could only believe Gabriel’s announcement because she remembered Isaiah’s proclamation, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel.” Were it not for the historical prophecies, her belief in the angel’s message would have been hysterical psychosis.

Joseph could only attribute his dreams to God’s divine direction because he remembered the covenant about the Messiah coming from the line of David, Judah, and Abraham – his lineage. Had these writings been forgotten, he would have been thought mad to claim he’d heard from the Almighty.

Remembering empowers today and fuels hope for tomorrow when we recall the promises and provisions of God.

Mary and Joseph could have dwelt on the uncertainties and anxieties of the present. They could have reminisced about the “silent years” when no more divine manuscripts were inspired by God. They could have recounted the long centuries of Jewish bondage to hostile powers. Mary could have bowed to her “place” as a lower-class female. Joseph could have accepted his “place” as an ordinary day laborer meant no divine encounters for him.

Instead, they chose to recall God’s habit of calling common people to uncommon places.

Abraham. David. Ruth. Rahab. It wasn’t just Joseph and Mary’s bodies which bore the DNA of these spiritual heroes; their souls carried their ancestor’s faith.

To lose one’s memories is difficult. Rejecting them is devastating.

That’s what the Israelites did after experiencing an epic deliverance from Egypt. Every time they encountered a new obstacle, they refused to remember past provisions. This wasn’t absent-mindedness. It was an intentional disregard.

What plague of frogs? What infestation of flies? What hailstorm? What bloody water? What death of the firstborn? What holding back of the Red Sea? What water from a rock? What divine delivery of food? What pillar of fire by night and cloud by day? So much miraculous evidence of God’s goodness and faithfulness to remember. Yet they chose to bury their memories.

The cost? No Promised Land. No fulfillment of their desires. No reaching their goals. No honing their abilities. Nothing but wandering around. Waiting to die. What a life they missed by refusing to remember.

It wasn’t the making and worshipping of the golden calf which kept them exiles in the desert. It was refusing to allow their past experiences with God to inform their present faith in Him.

This Advent, look backward and remember. Recall the times God has shown up for you. Just like the first coming of Christ, maybe it didn’t occur how you thought it would. Or when. Or where. Yet, if you look in the rearview mirror, you see the lovingkindness of God.

Remember. Like the Israelites post-Egypt, the cost of not doing so may be much higher than you’d ever consider. Like Mary and Joseph, the reward of doing so may be much grander than you could ever imagine.


©Stephanie D. Smith, 2022

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