Things Worth Remembering before We Start Forgetting

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A little forgetting is normal and healthy. But what if we are forgetting the things that really matter?

Eliza Tan

The symptoms first surfaced in the preparation of meals for the family. My mother took close to three hours to prepare each meal, which tasted saltier than usual. 

Then she kept misplacing objects in the house—spectacles in the fridge, magazine in the oven, a spoon in her handbag. We even had to buy a new TV remote because we couldn’t find it. We eventually found it in another bag.

The doctor’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease confirmed my family’s worst fears. Over time, we were warned, my mother would forget how to do her daily activities, and then the people in her life. Eventually, she would lose physical control of her body—the body would “forget” how to walk, swallow, and even breathe.

Over the next few years, I watched Alzheimer’s disease ravage my mother’s mind and body. At first, she struggled with not being able to recall or understand certain things. Gradually, she forgot her own name, who she was, and her own family members. She also became oblivious to her own deterioration.

It made me wonder if the same thing would happen to me one day, too. Having a parent with Alzheimer’s increases my genetic risk. Would I lose my sense of self and forget my family and friends? Would I forget who God is, and who He is to me?

The thought sometimes makes me melancholic. “Abba Father, if I do get Alzheimer’s, help me not to forget you,” I once prayed, with a tear in my eye.

Amazingly, the human mind is made to forget. As dementia researcher Dr Scott A. Small explains it, a little forgetting is normal and healthy. 

Instead of trying to remember everything, our minds choose what to retain, so that we can focus on things that matter more. The ability to forget actually helps us to prioritise, think better, make decisions, and even be more creative. 

But, forgetting needs to be balanced with remembering.

The problem today is that our constant use of smartphones in everything we do can affect this balance. Cognitive scientists have found that the overwhelming amount of information that we receive every day through online chats, social media, and internet browsing distracts our minds and fragments our attention. Over the long term, it causes our memory to deteriorate.

Moreover, we have “outsourced” to our devices and social media our ability to remember. Why bother to remember the telephone numbers of our best friends and their birthdays, when we can check on our phones anytime? 

The result of our increasing reliance on devices, say memory researchers, is digital amnesia. As we exercise our human memory less and less, the neuron connections in our brains weaken, stagnating development.

Then again, you might also ask: Why bother to remember things (like Bible verses), when a few presses or searches will bring us to the verses we need, anywhere and anytime?

Why Remembering God’s Word Matters

God clearly knows that we are forgetful creatures, and need frequent reminders of what He has said and done.

The Bible has many verses reminding us to keep God’s Word in our hearts. For example:

Whoever looks intently into the perfect law . . . and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:25, emphasis added) 

The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:15, emphasis added)

No less than Jesus himself kept the Word of God in His heart, which enabled Him to refute the devil when tempted, resisting sin (Matthew 4:1-11; Psalm 119:11). In fact, one might even argue that Eve first fell for the serpent’s temptation because she didn’t remember the word of God well (Genesis 3:1-3).

Some 20 years ago, on joining a Bible study group in my church, I was instructed to memorise some 20 to 30 Bible verses. Two decades later, I still know most of them by heart. Over the years, these passages have ministered to me in moments of discouragement, anxiety, and temptation. They continue to shape my prayers today.

I believe that this would not have been possible if I had simply relied on my phone to check for Bible verses. There is a very real differenceand spiritual impactof keeping God’s Word in our hearts instead of just on our phones. 

Author Adele Ahlberg Calhoun notes that remembering God’s Word gives our minds somewhere to go when all the media around us is turned off. His Word works in us even when we are not conscious of its doing so. 

As we let God’s Word soak deep into our minds and hearts, the Holy Spirit will help us recall what God has spoken to us: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26, emphasis added).

Why Remembering God’s Works Matters, Too

Just before the Israelites were about to step foot into the promised land, Moses gave them one long lesson that basically recounted their entire journey from Egypt through the wilderness. This account, which stretches from Deuteronomy 1-25, contains more than 20 repetitions of “do not forget” and “remember”.

Remembering what God has done for us is important because it helps us to trust that God is faithful; it also reminds us to be faithful. 

The Israelites had witnessed how God protected and provided for them in the wilderness. They could have faith that He would continue to do so in the promised land, if they remembered and worshipped the Lord. But they forgot Him, and did evil in His eyes by serving other gods (Judges 3:7).

Sometimes, we may need visual reminders of how God has worked in our lives.

When the 12 tribes of Israel were about to cross the Jordan river into the promised land, Joshua told them to set 12 stones in the middle of the river, which would be “a memorial . . . forever” (Joshua 4:7). 

We, too, can set up “memorial stones” that speak of God’s deliverance in different seasons of our lives. It could be entries in a journal, a record of answered prayers, or even a list of songs that remind ourselves of God’s goodness. 

My own “memorial stone” is a collection of 15 sticky notes recounting thanksgiving for every year that I spent at my first job. Through trials at work, God developed my character, granted me favour with colleagues so that I could witness to them, and equipped me to serve Him in my new work. The sticky notes remind me of how intimately God was involved in my life then—and continues to be now.

God Remembers, Too

As we try to remember His Word and His works, we have the assurance that God will never forget us. Our faithful God promises us that “He remembers his covenant forever” (Psalm 105:8). 

Just as His Word and works remind us of who God is and what He has done for us, they are also a powerful reminder that no matter what happens in our lives, even in times when we may not feel His presence, God remembers us.

I don’t know if there might come a day when I might forget God because of Alzheimer’s disease, but I know that He will remember me. Because He says so in Isaiah 49:15, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

May this prayer by author Timothy Keller help us remember what’s important:

Lord, I worry because I forget Your wisdom. I resent because I forget Your mercy. I covet because I forget Your beauty. I sin because I forget Your holiness. I fear because I forget Your sovereignty. You always remember me.
Help me to remember You.
Amen.

Eliza Tan is known by many names, but her favourite is 'My beloved child'. Though she eats to live rather than lives to eat, she still enjoys her food and wholeheartedly agrees with Ecclesiastes 3:13, "That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God."

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