Mrs. Lubbers is a wife and mother in the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord … and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
Memory is both my bane and my blessing.
Imprinted upon it are injuries done against me long, long ago. Slights, snubs, and unkind words and deeds seem to be etched there for life. Just the mere mention of a name may release those memories from the dark prison of my sub-conscious. Without indulging memory, something as simple as the slant of the sun on the sill, uncovering an old photo, or humming a strain of music will trigger a long-forgotten memory. For some, the strength of unwanted memories has meant a lifetime of suppressant drugs. For others, the force of grim memories has resulted in shock treatments. Dusty memories of old sins, disappointments, and unhappiness mar an otherwise good life. What you desire, and even pray, to be suppressed, comes back again and again to trouble you in recurring memories.
Scientists do not present a united front as to just how memory works. They are nonplussed as to how to keep it functioning vigorously into old age. But with today’s emphasis on total health and fitness, with the risk of Alzheimer’s looming large, and with the “fountain of youth” as yet undiscovered, more and more research is being channeled into this unexplored field.
Scientists are agreed that the brain stores information by strengthening the connection among stimulated neurons. In other words, our brains remember things by linking them to what we already know. “Unlike a computer, which stores related facts separately, the brain strives constantly to make associations” (Newsweek, June 1998). Scientists also make bold to assert that if a newly encoded memory doesn’t get used, it will quickly fade. On the other hand, if the memory is repeatedly activated, the pattern of connection becomes more deeply embedded in our brain tissue. Well-encoded memories last a lifetime, they say.
God must be amused by man’s “discoveries.” He has determined from all eternity both memory and the principles for its proper retention: “Remember … think upon … meditate … recite … recall to mind … repeat … etch … inscribe….” Since the beginning of time, He has instructed how He is to be praised, and how we are to benefit by rehearsing and remembering His goodness.
Every parent, teacher, minister, and sanctified believer knows the value of memory. Imagine a consciousness made up of random, disconnected bits of information. No “working memory” for juggling information at the present moment, and no “long-term memory” for storing information over extended periods of time. Past experiences, earlier judgments, abstract thought would mean nothing. Musing and meditating would be impossible. Nor would any of these be able to form a solid foundation upon which to receive new perceptions, information, and knowledge.
Because God gave us the gift, the precious gift, of memory, He tells us in many different books and chapters in both the Old and New Testaments to exercise this gift. The Old Testament is replete with injunctions for Israel to “remember.” Her many feasts were memorials. Whether it was the heaping up of a pile of stones, the commemorating of a particular day, the setting of costly stones in the priestly garments, or the blowing of trumpets over the sacrifices, all were commanded for this one purpose: to stir up in the Israelite’s soul the distant memory of a sovereign God and His wonderful works. “I am the Lord your God.” Remember Me.
For this reason, the teachers in the Protestant Reformed Christian schools set aside adequate blocks of time in the school day for giving children instruction and practice in memorizing large portions of God’s Word. Many verses, and entire chapters, are committed to memory by each grade throughout the course of the school year. Our school—I’m sure other schools have similar goals—requires a goodly number of passages to be learned each year so that by graduation from the elementary school, each student has a litany of Scripture passages committed to memory. And while some in Reformed circles have begun to lament the loss of the Psalter as the songbook of the church and school, in our schools the Psalter is faithfully used as the Book of Praise, with scores of songs memorized by the children. One concern that remains is this: are the expectations for memorization high enough? Whatever the answer, our confidence remains that, though God may use us to plant and water, He Himself gives the increase.
How thankful we may be that the King James Version of the Bible is uniformly used in our schools and churches so that the children have a common book eminently suitable to memory. I recall a new family who decided to join our school association in South Holland several years ago. As the father toured the school building, he mentioned that one of the primary reasons he had chosen to send his children to our school was the emphasis placed upon the memory of Scripture. He explained that over the course of his own school years he had been subjected to at least five different versions of the Bible, ranging all the way from Good News for Modern Man to the NIV, and as a result of this constant change he had never memorized any selections from Scripture.
It is crucial in any exercise of memory to have a fixed point of reference. “What mean ye by these stones?” asked Israel’s children. It is neither good pedagogy, nor good theology, capriciously to be changing the stones each year. And, as a result (a bonus, we might say) of a standard Book, those beloved Scripture passages and songs are indelibly written upon the hearts of the children. They delight day after day to recite and sing His majesty and faithfulness. They never seem to tire of it. Eagerly they learn the songs of Zion now, in their youth. We older saints know experientially the vast benefit of that for the future. In moments of fear and distress, in times of great calamity, in harsh persecution—which surely will come to these little ones—they will recall with clarity what they have believed and memorized in their childhood, and content themselves with its comfort both in life and in death. May we and our children have committed great portions of the Bible to godly memory just as did the Waldensians of the twelfth century. To the fury of their enemies, the Word of God could not be taken from them because it was inscribed through careful memory upon their hearts.
Children and loved ones of aged parents regularly tell that a Psalm learned as a child is the only piece of memory their parent retains. Their own children look like strangers to those old ones, and there seems to be no break for them in the dense fog of disassociation. With almost no communication possible, “Mother, let’s recite Psalm 23,” suggests a son or daughter. The precious words begin to fall from her cracked lips, as she recites in a high, thin, reedy voice, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….” Culled from an ancient memory unfolds an ancient truth. God’s promises are sure. It is true: well-encoded memories last a lifetime.
“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth.” Our children, our homes, our schools, and ultimately our churches are enriched through this careful, regular memorization of God’s Word. Our God is magnified when we remember and “think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Nor is the art, and thrill, of remembering restricted to children. How many aching and burdened hearts have not been uplifted and refreshed by the sweet words of Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? “Take, eat, remember, and believe.” And, like His disciples, we eagerly receive the elements of His body and blood, eating and drinking, remembering the sacrifice once and for all accomplished for us. The memory of that wondrous event never fails to arouse within us the desire to love the Lord our God and live a life of gratitude to Him.
A lifetime of memories, all of them, in a way that I cannot sort out, tied up with the goodness of God.
Memory, my blessing.