While we’re waiting for Undivided Heart to emerge (this month has been mainly getting stuff out of the way, so I can focus on it properly), here’s a taster of Forgetful Heart. If you’ve read the book you’ll recognise it as an abridged version of the first chapter, which originally appeared on the DLT books website.
In my book, Forgetful Heart, I begin with a confession. I struggle to remember things. What was I about to do, or say? Was it important? How can I get it back? I suspect I’m not alone.
Memory maps the landscape of our lives, impacting our relationships and grounding us in reality. It affects behaviour and attitude. It influences decisions; it shapes character and personality. It inspires gratitude and fuels worship. It gives meaning to objects and experiences, creating associations with the present and connecting us to the past. No wonder we worry about forgetting.
Our memories tell us who we are and who we have been. Memory (and the loss of it) is a popular theme in fiction, film, poetry and lyrics for that very reason. There is a whole proliferation of self-help books for improving memory. It’s an intrinsic part of our daily lives.
Memory also contributes to our lives of faith. We remember what we believe and why we believe it. Memory takes what we learn and reapplies it, so that we act and think differently than we would without this constant remembering.
Beyond this individual perspective, memory underpins the great narratives of religious history, telling salvation stories of the past, building a sense of identity not just for individuals but families, communities and nations.
Despite recognising this, I pay so little attention to the God I profess to believe in. I forget God: forget what God has told me, done for me, asked me to do. When I do remember, I wonder how I could have forgotten.
We might talk of a top ten ‘unforgettable moments’, assure ourselves that we will always remember the acuteness of an experience, the details of special celebrations, the punch line of a joke. Later, we try and recall these moments and find that details have slipped away in a fog of memory loss. When reminded of something by someone else we struggle to recall our own perspective on it. If we do manage to retrieve the information, it takes us by surprise. How could I forget? Why didn’t I realise I should make an effort to keep the memory alive?
Memory is a process – one that receives, stores and retrieves information. When we receive new information our minds process it and organise it, reflect and engage with it. They form new connections with what we already know. We behave differently because of this remembering.
When we remember, we take out pieces of information – past experiences or things we have learned – and re-examine them. We also adapt them, applying the memory ofthen to now, and vice versa. When we remember things about God, this too is applied and adapted. Hopefully this causes us to live more faithfully, because we have remembered our identity from the pieces we’ve cradled in our minds – pieces of hope, compassion, knowledge – all combining to tell us who we are.
For Christians, identity lies in Christ. We were created in God’s image, and in Jesus the ultimate demonstration and mending of that image takes place. He is the one we seek to imitate, enabled by the Holy Spirit. How often do we call this to mind?
Do we say we ‘remember’ something just because the knowledge is stored somewhere in our brains? We scrabble round and find it eventually. What about active remembering, an essential power of recall which means that we are constantly applying our memories to our lives? This explicit remembering has always been important to the people of God. The bible often uses the language of remembering to talk about how we should live, and that’s what I reflect on in the second part of the book.
I find that I live my life with such a forgetful heart that I often do not reflect my God-identity. I’m usually fearful, constantly careless and frequently preoccupied with things that don’t matter. I long for my life to be productive and to make a difference, but in reality I spend so much time just wasting time. I don’t take advantage of what I’ve been given and don’t reflect on what I’ve learned. I consign myself to weary mediocrity, occasionally feeling a flash of longing for something deeper, something better, something closer to the life I feel I should be living. A life marked with the power of remembering, remembering that is not hopelessly divided or perpetually distracted but focused on the one who makes it all worthwhile.
I’m easily distracted. I frequently don’t store what I learn, and usually have trouble retrieving it. I’m not someone who remembers with ease or with confidence. I doubt myself most of the time. But I want to remember. I long to remember.
The wonderful thing is that our memory loss does not change what God has done for us. Because we believe in a God who remembers us, we can be assured that our own forgetfulness does not erase what he has done or who he is. Yes, we are called to remember but we must hold fast to this: God will remember us, even if our minds betray us from the inside. Remembering helps us to live out our calling and to own our identity, but our remembering God is above and beyond all our powers of recall.
Forgetful Heart: Remembering God in a Distracted World by Lucy Mills is available from www.dltbooks.com, in paperback, £9.99
For reviews and information on other sellers, see www.lucy-mills.com/forgetful-heart