Memories have huge staying power, but like dreams, they thrive in the dark, surviving for decades in the deep waters of our minds like shipwrecks on the sea bed.” ~ J. G. Ballard ~
Mark Twain once remarked, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Can you imagine if he were alive today? Sorry Mr. Twain, in modern Sodom, naked people and other forms of societal perversions seem to be taking over.
Clothing does, in fact, have some impact on a society. What we wear often affects how we identify ourselves and how others perceive us. But does “dressing for success”, for instance, really make us an overall success in life? Are we the sum total of all the clothing we’ve ever owned? When you put it that way, it really sounds quite absurd.
I believe that our memories can have more of an impact on who we are in this life then clothing ever could. Collective memories are a lifetime’s true narrative – tying past and present together while frequently creating the framework for our tomorrows. Each new life experience, cataloged and recorded in the recesses of our mind, provide us with a “sense of self.”
What are memories? My brain, eyes, heart and lungs have physical properties. But memories don’t exist in the corporeal world. You cannot touch a recollection. Try downloading a memory to your computer. It can’t be done – at least not yet.
Memories are actually complex constructs. A single trip down memory lane requires imagery to be actively reconstructed from combined data streams stored in many different areas of the human brain. Scientists have yet to figure out exactly how the system works or what really occurs each time we recall information from the past. Even after decades of research, the quest to discover exactly how the brain acquires, organizes and stores all the data to reconstruct a myriad of memories goes on.
Now, ask me if I care? Not really. The subject is captivating, I suppose, but the knowledge is unnecessary. In the end, I’m just glad I still can remember things I need to function each day (has anyone seen my keys?) and that I have so many wonderful memories from my journey in life (thus far) to enjoy.
Do I have any bad memories? (Que the band, ahem, meme-meeeee…)
“Regrets? I’ve had a few. But then again too few to mention…”
Okay, Sinatra I am not, but you get the point. Everyone has some unpleasant memories stored from times past. Some people seem to just naturally downplay their undesirable experiences while others are predisposed to getting stuck in destructive memory ruts. These “negative” individuals appear to fixate on all of the bad times rather than recalling the good stretches in life. Some psychologists even say that the ability to minimize the negative impact of bad memories takes a learned and conscious effort. In other words, “you got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative”, as the late Reverend M. J. Divine (c. 1876 – 1965) liked to say in his sermons.
In 1973 Robert Redford and Barbara Streisand starred in a move called “The Way We Were.” The lyrics to the title song of the same name were written by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman. The renowned Marvin Hamlisch wrote the music and Streisand performed the memorable vocal. The song went on to become the number one pop hit of 1974. Here’s an excerpt:
“Memories may be beautiful and yet
what’s too painful to remember
we simply choose to forget
So it’s the laughter we will remember
whenever we remember the way we were.”
Seems like good advice to me. Sometimes, we just have to decide to let go of the painful past. Since we tend to quickly recall the memories that we dwell upon the most – good or bad – it just makes sense to put emphasis on the positive!
There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all the sadness away, but I have the feeling that if I did, the joy would be gone as well.” ~ Nicholas Sparks ~
Let me tell you a little bit about the extraordinary life of a guy who lived almost 2000 years ago. Shaul (Saul) was his Hebrew name and Paulus (Paul) was his Roman name. He’s famous because his writings comprise almost half of the Newer Testament of the Bible. He was a Roman citizen by birth, well-educated and trained by one of the best Hebrew scholars of his day – Gamaliel. Saul was also a member of a Jewish socio-religious party that flourished in Palestine during the latter part of the Second Temple period (515 BC -70 AD) called the Pharisees.
Saul hated Christians. He pursued his mission to destroy Christianity (known then as The Way) like a rabid animal. Some say that there was no other man alive at that time who more despised Jesus of Nazareth and His followers. But that all changed rather abruptly after he was struck to the ground by some kind of otherworldly (supernatural) light and then spoken to directly by an unseen being who identified himself as “the Jesus you are persecuting.” The Newer Testament Book of Acts describes this incredible encounter as follows:
1 “But Paul, threatening with every breath and eager to destroy every Christian, went to the High Priest in Jerusalem. 2 He requested a letter addressed to synagogues in Damascus, requiring their cooperation in the persecution of any believers he found there, both men and women, so that he could bring them in chains to Jerusalem. 3 As he was nearing Damascus on this mission, suddenly a brilliant light from heaven spotted down upon him! 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Paul! Paul! Why are you persecuting me?”
5 “Who is speaking, sir?” Paul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6 Now get up and go into the city and await my further instructions.” (Acts 9:1-6)
Talk about drama. Aside from the amazing details surrounding Paul’s phenomenal conversion, can you imagine what was going on in the mind of this Christian hating Jew who was now on his way to becoming a follower of the Liberator Jesus? In mere days he would be transformed from someone who killed supporters of the new messianic sect to being a believer himself. This conversion would see Paul loose his influential position of power in the socio-religious world of the Israelites to become just another disciple of the one whom many regarded as the “renegade Jew.” In the days ahead, his friends would become his adversaries and his former enemies would become his new family. Paul would now be an outcast in his homeland and above all, the focus of his message and mission would forever change.
Forgiveness does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” ~ Lewis B. Smedes ~
What about His sordid past? Surely he must have carried memories of the blind hatred he once felt toward followers of the Liberator Jesus; to say nothing of the murders he authorized and the innocents he jailed. How do you forget those things? Was Paul ever troubled by his former life after he became a follower of Jesus? No one really knows for sure.
Certainly, Paul had more to forget than most. Your average convert to the new “Way” (Christianity) may have been immersed in false religions, various crimes, misfortunes, wicked behaviors and bad decisions in their past, but few were as guilty of Paul’s extreme loathing of Jesus and His followers. Think about it, how many of the early believers (or even converts up to this day) had actually hunted down fellow humans like so many wild beasts with sword and stones. If anyone had the potential to be haunted by memories of a messed up past life – Paul was a prime candidate.
Here is what we do know, Paul often acknowledged his past mistakes in his writings, but he never spoke of them as lingering regrets or haunting memories directly. In his letter to Christians living in ancient Ephesus, he refers to himself as “less than the least of all Christians” (Ephesians 3:8). He almost contritely told the believers living in the Roman city of Corinth that he was “the least of all the messengers”, going on to say, “I do not deserve that title (special messenger) at all, because I persecuted the Church of God. But what I am now I am by the grace of God.” (1 Corinthians 15:9). But perhaps his most telling confession was made in a letter to a close friend named Timothy,
12-15 “I am deeply grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ (to whom I owe all that I have accomplished) for trusting me enough to appoint me his minister, despite the fact that I had previously blasphemed his name, persecuted his Church and damaged his cause. I believe he was merciful to me because what I did was done in the ignorance of a man without faith, and then he poured out his grace upon me, giving me tremendous faith in, and love for, himself.” (1 Timothy 1:12-15)
Whatever emblematic demons Paul may have suffered mentally, he never let them stand in his way. He focused not on self-pity or unproductive anxiety. Rather, he learned how to let go of his past, saying,
12 “I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.
13 No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.” (Philippians 3:12-14 TLB)
When Paul talked of his intention to “forget the past”, he was saying, in effect, “I no longer care about those things which are behind me. I refuse to focus on my past – both the good and the bad.” Paul now understood that not one single worldly accomplishment from the best of his past nor one tormenting recollection of his worst mistakes had any relevance when compared with the priceless gain that comes from knowing the Liberator Jesus (C.f. – Philippians 3:8)
I have memories ~ but only a fool stores his past in the future.” ~ David Gerrold ~
Granted, some of our past experiences may be nearly impossible to simply erase forever. I’m not recommending that we all look for some kind of miraculous mind cleanse. The key here is this: when we focus on the present and look expectantly toward the future, we can be freed from the ball and chain of our negative past. If Almighty God is willing to forgive us for ALL past mistakes, who are we to hold on to them?
It’s so easy to “live in the past.” Whether it’s some bygone victory that our mind continually replays like an old movie to prop up our self-importance or a previous defeat that hangs over us like a smothering shroud, both need to be left behind. A truly happy and healthy life is possible only when we refuse to allow past successes to inflate our pride; past failures to deflate our self-worth and instead, leaving it all behind, we adopt our new identity as revealed to us by the Spirit of the Liberator Jesus. (C.f. – 2 Corinthians 5:17).
When we choose to answer the calling of our Creator and in so doing grow into a genuine follower of the Liberator Jesus, then no judgment remains for any of our haunting memories or regrets. (Romans 8:1). Instead we lay aside the encumbering weight of every failure – past, present and future (Hebrews 12:1), learning instead to embrace the incredible future promised by the Almighty One to those who love Him. (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10).
That my friends is true freedom. Freedom to forget the past. Freedom to enjoy as best we can life in the present – one day at a time. And, Freedom to look forward with great expectation toward a future that has been carefully planned for us by the one who knows us better than we know ourselves – our Liberator, our Creator, our Lord and our God!
God, please let the blinders fall away so that some may find revelation at this moment and turn from the darkness of their past to your marvelous light. Amen.
Joseph A. Cerreta, PhD., is a noted author, broadcaster, a popular Bible teacher and a rabbid Coastal Junkie ®
For additional information write to: Coastal Life Ministries, P.O. Box 1283, New Port Richey, Florida 34656.