“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” –Psalm 103:2
“…but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind…) - Philippians 3:13
You who like me have known the sorrow of losing a loved one long before he or she actually passes away from the complications of Alzheimer’s, also know that some things from the past remain clear as crystal. Their memory somehow salvages some things while discarding others. And they evidently have no control over which is which. I would suggest, however, that those of us who still retain control of our powers of memory should purposely practice selective memory. By that, I mean, choosing what we will and won’t remember.
Comparing the two opening texts, it’s obvious some things need to be remembered, and some things need to be forgotten. And sadly, often as not, we get the two mixed up. I agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, “Memory is a crazy witch; she treasures bits of rags and straw, and throws her jewels out the window.” Of all things, as the text says, we have to be reminded to not forget all God’s benefits. We get lax, shortsighted, and forget that we’ve been cleansed from those past sins that cry out for recognition (2 Pet. 1:9). And we forget when God chastens or rebukes us, it’s His way of saying, “You’re my child, and I’m your Father” (Heb. 12:5). Sometimes our memories just need a good refreshing.
But sometimes they need a good cleaning out.
For instance, the sooner we throw away the memory of past injustices, the sooner we’ll lift a heavy burden from our souls that hangs like an ominous cloud over our minds. Dredging them up from our past only aggravates past hurts. Precious memories are easily squelched by stronger, deeper hurts. Remember this: If we truly believe God is in control, nothing can touch us unless He permits it; and it would never even enter His mind to do us harm. One of my favorite verses says so: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29:11). So just forget all those past hurts. They’re just a small part of your story.
Then, I alluded in my second paragraph to the fact that when the devil decides to bring up past sins, he always neglects to tell the whole story. They’re forgotten, cleansed, purged, gone, kaput! If we’ve confessed, repented, and forsaken them, they’re dead and buried; and in their place grow the lilies of Grace. There should be no room in our storehouse of memories for past sins.
One last thing, and turning the corner here a bit, we should forget past triumphs, achievements, and glory. I have an idea that’s what Paul is speaking of in Philippians 3:13, especially when it’s sandwiched between verses twelve and fourteen. “I haven’t yet arrived,” he says in verse twelve, “And I’m not looking back at past glory; I’m pressing on to the next goal,” he affirms in verse fourteen. The past may have been wonderful, fruitful, and flourishing with good work, but it’s not good enough to sit on for the rest of our lives. We don’t have to top it; in fact, we don’t even have to match it. We simply have to move on to the next thing God has given us to do. But as long as we’re measuring ourselves with the yardstick of yesterday, we’ll always fall short of the will of God today.
A selective memory: it’s a good thing, I say. I think our prayer should be that of the old saint of God, who prayed: “Lord, help us to remember what we ought not to forget, and to forget what we ought not to remember.” Amen!