In Search of the Ideal, Part 6: Memory

Author’s Note: This is the sixth part in a series on mankind’s search for the ideal — the perfect, the mature, the right. I’m convinced that every human being, Christian or not, has at some depth a desire for things to “be right” in the world. This longing drives us to seek answers. Some look internally, some look to religion, and others look to a higher power. Lately, I’ve been deeply craving for certain areas of life to be perfect, complete and ideal. This series explores some of my longings. Maybe you can relate!

Storytelling is in my blood.

I don’t know if I get the desire to spin a tall tale from my father or mother (likely my dad) but I sure love to share stories. Telling the truth? Eh. Not always. As columnist Randy Galloway once said when told that something he just wrote was not factual, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

During my 20’s I was a journalist and columnist for several newspapers. In my column, “Newt’s Notes,” I would often tell stories from my family’s past, from vacations to sibling issues to family history. The writing was good, I was often told by my family, but I got the facts wrong! All the time. They seem to remember events differently…

Ah, memory. I sure wish that my memory was better, especially when it comes to hearing the voices of people gone away, seeing their faces, or remembering all the wise things they told me. But most times I can only faintly hear them laugh in my memories, or truly remember what they looked like from pictures or videos.

The past is so, so fuzzy! I long for the ideal of having a perfect memory… to see, hear and feel what I’ve already experienced. I want SO badly to remember things people told me. I had so many amazing conversations with mentors, friends, pastors and the sort during which they have given me great wisdom. But I cannot remember it!

What is even more cruel is that I can remember some dreams that I’ve had at night better than the reality I lived the day before. Having someone say, “What did you do this past weekend?” and responding “I don’t remember!” just ain’t cool.

Memory & the Bible

Doing a search for “memory” in the Bible brings interesting results. In the Old Testament, the Lord is constantly threatening to wipe out from the face of the earth the memory of peoples who oppose Him (see Psalm 34:16). Every society wanted to be remembered among the nations and through the generations. To be forgotten was an insult. In Ecclesiastes, that great motivational writing of Solomon, memory is seen as part of the fleeting nature of life apart from God.

“Is there anything about which someone can say, “Look at this! It is new!”? It was already done long ago, before our time. No one remembers the former events, nor will anyone remember the events that are yet to happen; they will not be remembered by the future generations (1:10-11).” Gee, thanks, Solomon.

Thankfully, the O.T. also talks about a positive side of memory. “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the reputation of the wicked will rot (Proverbs 10:7).” So to have a good memory and to be righteous is a great blessing!

In the New Testament, the subject of memory is all over the writings of Paul. “Remember!” the apostle told his readers repeatedly (2 Cor 9:6; Eph 2:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess 2:5). In days before Facebook, video cameras or telephones, Paul only had his memories of people to rely on when he thought of them. And so he was constantly writing things like, “I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers (Eph. 1:16; cf. 2 Tim. 1:3).” The people he wrote to also remembered him (1 Cor. 11:2).

Of Memories & Reminders

It’s much easier to remember when you have something in front of you that evokes a specific memory. I’ll never forget riding to South Louisiana last fall with my sister Heather and talking about our memories of our grandmother, who had just passed away at the age of 87.

“For me, other things trigger my memories, like scents and tastes,” I told Heather. “When I cook a gumbo, for example, the smell of the roux reminds me of those times when we would first come into Grandmother’s house and the smell of gumbo would be in the air. Even the remnants of Granddaddy’s smoking would leave a scent on my pillows and clothes and whenever I got home I would take a deep sniff of them and think of Lafayette.”

Food often triggers memory for me. When I taste the chicken and dumplings that I cook from my mother’s recipe, I am reminded of her and all those meals growing up in which she would fix amazing food from relatively few ingredients. Simple food, strong memories.

I am also very thankful that we live in the age of photography, video and audio recording. My family had fun looking through pictures of my grandparents last winter as we went through stuff in my grandmother’s house. Things long forgotten came back to the light and the memories were still fresh. Solomon might’ve had a different opinion if he just had a few pictures…

Memory is a funny thing, you know?

I long for a time when we won’t have to rely on our hazy memories in order to remember people, places and things. I wonder how well we will remember earth when we’re walking the golden streets of heaven. Will memory be fuzzy or clear? Will we be so wrapped up in the “now” that we won’t think of the “then?” I have no idea! I guess we will find out when we get there, eh?

Be God’s.