When you open social media in the morning and it notifies you of a memory from three years ago, do you pause to see it?
I mean, do you really pause to see it? Do you stop your scroll long enough to relive that day or moment in your mind, to recall the joy in that smile, or to remember the heartache hiding just behind the screen? Do you allow yourself to feel all that it stirs up in you?
I would guess most often we don’t allow ourselves the space and time to experience just how much emotion one of those small memories can hold. But when we do, I would guess we’ve all noticed just how powerful it can be.
I know that my story is my own, and that your story looks and feels vastly different, but I would bet I’m not the only one who has held my thumb on that screen, caught a glimpse of an old photo, and decided—most likely subconsciously—that sometimes the pain of really remembering outweighs nostalgia’s warm glow.
In fact, the last few years of my life have been so unexpected and uncertain and unyielding that most of the time remembering feels like the very last thing I want to do. Most of the time, it feels far easier to forget those trials that crept in uninvited, those tears I never thought I would have to cry, those transitions that kept coming and coming.
Yet the more I reflect on those moments I’d much rather leave behind me, the more about them I actually begin to see, sometimes for the first time. I begin to see who I am now in light of who I was then. I begin to see what God has carried me through. And sometimes, I begin to smile—often when I’d least expect it.
I begin to realize there’s something sacred in this art of remembering.
But it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. We don’t try very hard to remember the names and faces of the other children in our fourth grade class, or the shape of every nook and cranny of our childhood home. Even though those details were once an important part of our daily lives, they’ve now become distant memories scarred with our forgetfulness. And even though the big moments of our adult lives feel more impactful and formative in our minds—even though we convince ourselves we could never forget—someday those will fade too if we don’t learn to remember on purpose.
When we don’t actively seek to remember the good things, the hard things, and the somewhere-in-between things, we will—inevitably, slowly, and then all at once—slip into forgetting.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve composed a beautiful line of writing in my head while lying in bed at night, drifting to sleep. Instead of forcing myself out of bed to grab a pen and jot it down, I decide I’ll repeat it to myself over and over again until I’ve committed it to memory. And I promise myself that when morning rolls around, I’ll remember.
But do I? Rarely. Instead, those beautiful lines tumble down that slippery slope of forgetting.
And I don’t want the most formative seasons and moments of our lives to slip there, too.
So how do we begin to remember? I don’t think this question comes with an easy answer. Remembering is an art we’ll need to keep on learning, slowly and painfully and imperfectly, every day of our lives. Perhaps today this looks like taking just one small step. Here are a few ideas to get us started.
Keep a journal dedicated to remembering.
If you’re not one who thrives at keeping journals—don’t worry, this is still for you. I can hardly remember a day in my life when I kept a consistent journal until now. This year, I picked up a One Line a Day Journal, which seems to be designed exactly for this holy purpose of remembering. Grab yourself a copy of this one, or find a blank journal around the house and create your own. Each day, find ten seconds to jot something down you want to remember about that day—something that happened, something you did, or something you felt. On this same day over the next four years, you’ll be able to look back and remember all of it—every struggle right alongside every celebration.
Sit down and reflect on what God has brought you through.
Find a cozy, private space, and sit there alone, with empty hands. Leave your phone and your to-do list at the door. Sit there in the awkward silence, in the still and in the slow. Sit there with only one thing on your agenda—remembering. In your mind, begin to replay moments of your life in vivid color. Let yourself smile, laugh, and even cry. When you find a memory that spurs delight, let yourself soak in what it feels like to recall those glimpses of glory God has already given you in this short life. And when you stumble upon a memory that saddens your soul, let yourself remember all that He has already carried you through.
Practice remembering hard things.
To take your reflection a little deeper, challenge yourself to recall a moment, situation, or trial from the last few years that you don’t want to relive. Maybe it was a season of great loss. Maybe it was a season that stirs up a pit in your stomach when you think about it, so you don’t think about it. I would challenge you to practice remembering this season—to let yourself feel it and see that it might not be as scary as it feels. Let yourself see that you’ve been made stronger by it, and that even though it’s behind you, it’s become a big part of you.
Relive this moment—and unearth the scars and emotions you’ve buried for so long—to begin the holy process of healing. Depending on what you’ve been through, this might be best to practice with the guidance of a licensed counselor. I am no professional—and I don’t pretend to be one—so I would ask you to know the depths of your own story and pain in a way that welcomes others in to walk alongside you.
A Holy Picture
These last few months have been incredibly hard. There have been more days than not that I’ve sighed and thought—I don’t want to remember this. I don’t want to remember the heartache, the pain, or the fear. But this is exactly why we need to.
Someday we’ll look back and see that even in the midst of storms, we kept on moving. Someday we’ll look back and see there is a sweet and sacred kind of surrender that comes with remembering our deepest valleys right alongside the greatest triumphs of our lives. We’ll see the holy purpose in remembering the anxiety right next to the adventures. The injustice right there with the joy. The tragic right beside the beautiful.
It is this art of remembering that will paint us the holy picture of every heartache we’ve endured against the backdrop of what glory there is still to come. And that’s a picture I never want to forget.
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