I am a little ashamed to tell you that I cannot recall what my New Year’s resolutions were three-hundred-sixty-some days ago. My forgetfulness reminds me of high school, when I had a part in a skit for a New Year’s program that was modeled after Saturday Night Live. My favorite was “Mr. Short-Term Memory.” The original character was played brilliantly by Tom Hanks and written by an up-and-coming comedian named Conan O’Brien. I loved the episode where Tom Hanks went to dinner and kept having moments of exasperation where he would question who put food in front of him or what was just said in the conversation. I’m not sure our high school version lived up.
I took the kids when they were younger to watch Finding Nemo and enjoyed their frustrated laughter at poor Dory. She was the blue fish with short-term memory loss getting everyone in trouble with her forgetfulness.
It will be funny if you don’t recall any of these television or movie moments, and appropriate, because we essentially live our lives of faith the same way.
You might say the Bible is packed with skits like “Mr. Short-Term Memory” and characters like Dory. It is one of the perpetual themes in our story that God’s people fail to remember his faithfulness to them.
It is the nature of God’s people (yes, you and me) to forget over and over and over … and, well … over.
After God miraculously delivers Israel from Egyptian tyranny, it took his people just a month to become restless and dissatisfied. The story explains:
“The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.'” (Exodus 16:2-3)
God’s people forget and want to take things into their own hands even if it means returning to captivity! Shocking? But it actually reminds me a little bit of how you and I live.
The Gospels tell of the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat. A storm comes upon them suddenly while Jesus is sleeping, and they all begin to panic. Jesus wakes a bit agitated with their lack of faith, but simply commands the sea to calm down. Isn’t it curious that these men who walk side-by-side with Jesus witnessing his daily miracles and power would freak out despite him being in the boat?
The disciples forget and become fearful and anxiety-ridden … sound familiar?
We have short-term memories when it comes to God’s work in our lives. As I wrote about in my recent book Holy Nomad, an essential part of living a vibrant faith is learning to be intentional about remembering God’s faithfulness.
You see, the great moments of the biblical narrative happened when average everyday people like you and me allowed the reality of God’s devotion in their past to invade their present moments. How did they do this?
They were intentional about remembering: Abraham builds an altar to God after securing a great victory. In fact, Abraham constructs altars so often that you might trace his adventures by the landmarks he left behind. Noah builds an altar after the flood. Jacob builds an altar at Bethel.
Before you head to the backyard and start piling up stones, let me explain.
As the characters of our story travelled the wilderness, they would often happen upon a significant landmark where God had been faithful to them. These were altars they had left behind on their journey and returned to once again. From the Passover to the Last Supper and down the line through the history of the Bible, their journey was sustained by the “altars” signifying God’s faithful attendance to his people.
The truth is God has done some great work in my life this past year. But most days, I go about my daily routine as if I am living a “Mr. Short-Term Memory” faith. I am finding more and more that the practice of remembering God’s faithfulness dramatically changes the way I approach every single moment of my day.
I have begun keeping my “altars” in a journal.
Without the practice of remembering, our lives can become as dark as Guy Pearce’s character in the chilling movie Memento. His character suffers from short-term memory loss and must take Polaroid pictures, write copious notes to himself, and even tattoo important facts on his body in order to move forward in his quest.
If you are like me, your journey with God is similar.
This New Year as we take time to reflect on the year that has passed by, we should also make it an occasion to fight off our short-term memory loss when it comes to God’s devotion.
It can transform the way we live.
Let this turning of the calendar be a time to begin marking God’s gifts to us with snapshots of faithfulness. Let us become intentional about building “altars” throughout the year when God meets us with blessings, and write notes to ourselves so that we can frequently be reminded. Begin 2014 with a resolution to remember that God is faithful.