“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3 NKJV).
The last Monday in May is recognized as “Memorial Day” (formerly “Decoration Day”) in the United States. This national holiday is intended as a time to remember and honor those who died while serving in the armed forces of the United States. Many will also take time to remember other departed loved ones by visiting grave sites or in other ways.
Such events, along with monuments, statues, plaques, and designated sites serve to help us keep events and persons of the past alive in our consciousness and relevant to current times. They are made valid and effective by memories, and serve to help us recognize the importance of memory.
One might define memory as “one’s own personal historical record.” Whether it is aided by written journals or diaries, photographs, or other aides, much of anyone’s record is simply engraved on his or her mind. It is sad that so many seem indifferent to memory, recognizing “I can’t remember things” or “I have a bad memory” with no apparent feelings of regret or sorrow.
I have read that there is no such thing as a “bad” memory unless one is suffering from mental illness. For those with healthy minds, memories may be described as trained or untrained. I understand that there are those with unusual gifts of memory – what is sometimes called photographic or eidetic memory. But the fact is that if one does not remember things well, he or she is probably not really trying.
That may sound harsh or judgmental. It is not intended to be either. Often when I make report presentations about the mission trips that I have taken people will remark, “I don’t see how you remember all of those names.” My reply is usually, “I work at it.” It is just that simple. If one will write down or otherwise record important information, then review it repeatedly, it will remain in memory for a surprising amount of time. How long one remembers and how much detail one may retain varies as do all other personal qualities. But all of us have the capacity to remember and the potential to train our memories to be more effective.
Memory is both a blessing and a useful, even essential, tool. As Paul noted in his letter to the Philippians, memories bring us pleasure. Without memory we would be prisoners of the present moment, with nothing remaining to us of our past experiences. Yes, some memories bring sorrow, but even sorrows may enrich us as we recall the relationships of earlier times.
Most importantly memories provide lessons from which we may learn (1 Corinthians 10:11-12). We study events recorded by others so we do not make the mistakes which harmed them. We leave our own records so our children and grandchildren may not repeat our errors. And we continue to dwell on our own pasts so that each day we may find greater success than before.
Without memory there is no true learning. What we commit to our minds must be recallable or it serves no purpose. This is true in all areas of knowledge, but nowhere is it more important than in the spiritual realm. As Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). If we do not remember the truth (i.e., God’s word – John 17:17) we have not learned it. It is not implanted within us (James 1:21) and therefore cannot save us. Memory matters.