I believe in remembering. I believe in reliving discoveries from the best moments from my life, and recalling hard-won lessons from the worst.
Not that I’m all that good at it. The creeping effects of middle age make me work harder than ever to remember the name of someone I’ve just met. And it’s not easy to look back some days, not when I rush headlong from one task to another without pausing to remember why I do what I do. In our era of innovation and constant improvement, the past is often, well, history.
But I’m trying not to forget the faces that have blessed me, the places that have shaped me. I’m paying more attention to the turns and detours that have brought me to where I live today. I’m trying not to let telling moments get buried in an avalanche of busyness. Life sometimes makes the most sense when I read it backwards.
Keeping a journal is helping here. Years ago, almost on a whim, while we strolled past a bookstore display of blank books, my wife suggested I try journaling. Ever since, I try to record everyday events, new insights or emerging truths, and certainly disappointments.
But the writing itself isn’t all. I will sometimes pull out a volume from an earlier time and read through the jottings, connecting again to what otherwise would lie forgotten. I find myself appropriating from then some vivid moment or even epiphany for now. Sometimes I see something I would miss were I to try, always on the fly, to piece together where I’m going. I sense some pattern or trajectory or calling. I may even trace through my memories the outlines of the hand of Providence.
I am also trying to make more room for remembering as a community project. As a clergyman, I get a front row seat to my parishioners’ everyday triumphs and personal resurrections. They tell me about their discouraged times and their answered prayers. Sometimes my asking them to tell their stories helps them reconnect to truths they only need a nudge to recall. Sometimes my vicarious remembering with them blesses me.
And then—driving to work, drifting off to sleep at night, taking a walk in the Tennessee woods near my home—an image from the past may drift into the rooms of my thoughts, unbidden: I recall the dark, quiet evening when I was a child, sitting peacefully in the living room watching the blinking lights of our Christmas tree. Or the time panic over an unpaid bill was met with provision. Or the day, sitting in a worship service, that I realized how cared for I really was, despite my immersion in self-doubt.
Remembering this way is more than dreamy nostalgia. It means that what I face today—challenges or stresses—won’t seem so daunting. I remember, and then know better who I am–whose I am. When that happens, my present suddenly seems all the more rich with possibilities.
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