Learning when you look back

The end of the year is a time when everyone starts looking back over the weeks and months that have passed. At least, it is for me. I think about where I started at the beginning of the year. I think about all the great things that have happened, but I also think about all the bad stuff too.

I love life. I love following Jesus. I love doing what God has called me to do, but it’s a foregone conclusion that life isn’t always happy. Sometimes bad things happen, and they often happen to good people. But the world isn’t perfect, and we’re all just doing the best we can to get by in it. That being said, I screw things up. I make decisions in fear or insecurity or anger. I hide when I ought to speak up. I speak up when I ought to shut up.

But no matter how many times I mess up, one thing is certain–I learn something.

PTJNJ5LZLAToday’s verse is Deuteronomy 4:9.

But watch out! Be careful never to forget what you yourself have seen. Do not let these memories escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to your children and grandchildren.

I don’t like making mistakes, and I don’t like difficult situations. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like it when people are unhappy with me or with others. But many times I end up in a circumstance where I’m facing one or all of those things, and many times it’s because of something I did or said (or because I failed to do or say something I needed to).

I noticed that gasoline was really low the other day. Like less than $1.50 per gallon, and I should have filled up. But I didn’t. I decided to put it off. And the next day, it was up around $1.75, and I had to fill up because I was almost out. When you make a judgment call about anything, you have to face the consequences. And whether the consequences are good or bad, you can still walk away with a lesson learned.

God cautioned the Children of Israel to remember what they had been through in the wilderness, how He’d taken care of them, how He’d guided them and provided for them. He wanted them to remember so that they’re children wouldn’t forget. And that hasn’t changed today. It might be thousands of years later and we may be living in a different culture, but the concept is still the same.

When God brings you through something, remember it. Remember what you learned. Remember how you got into it. Remember how God got you out of it. And take steps to keep remembering it. Tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell anyone who will listen. Write it down, because you will forget, and you shouldn’t.

So take stock of where you are and how you got there. Take a moment and look back on your life and the choices you’ve made that brought you to where you are today. Then learn from it. If you made a choice and good consequences followed, remember it. If you made a choice and bad consequences followed, remember that too and don’t do it again.

The New Year is approaching with more speed than any of us realize, and many of us will try starting over. That’s all well and good, but if you don’t remember how you got here to begin with, you are destined to make the same mistakes all over again.

Long memory

Human memory is amazing. People can remember the strangest things about their pasts, things that you’d think don’t matter at all. But even if it’s something random or (honestly) useless, people can still sometimes recall details about their life as a child. What’s even more amazing is that sometimes a smell can trigger a memory. This happened to me last week.

I walked into one of the elevators in the building I work in. I guess someone had purchased breakfast at the cafe on the first floor and carried it up to their office because the elevator smelled like bacon and eggs. But either someone else had gotten on with ridiculously strong cologne (a lot of the men in this building wear cologne strong enough to make your hair stand on end) or someone had sprayed room freshner in the elevator (that’s possible too as the cleaning ladies are totally OCD).

But the combination of breakfast smells mixed with that smell that was either room freshner or men’s cologne made me think–immediately–of the Four Winds Dining Center at Pensacola Christian College, where I went to school my first year of college. I hadn’t smelled that combination of scents since I left PCC. And just like that I was 18 years old, walking into the Four Winds in my collared shirt and my skirt, swiping my ID card at the door, and making a beeline for the Mexican food station for a taco salad.

I’d always heard that scents can bring on memories, but I’d never experienced it until then. It was startling.

The human mind tucks all sorts of interesting tidbits away, some even without our knowledge, I think. Because I swear I learn things without meaning to sometimes. But then those things stick with me for years. I can remember things from when I was 4. And I’m fairly certain I don’t have the most impressive mind out there. It’s random and it makes strange associations sometimes, but I get the feeling it’s pretty normal for the most part.

So . . . here’s my thought. If human memory is so incredible, can you imagine what God’s memory is like? Imagine being able to remember everything about every instant in perfect, flawless detail. And not just remembering what things look like on the inside–but being able to pierce flesh and see straight down into someone’s soul and remember even what somebody was thinking. Talk about sensory overload. I know I couldn’t keep it all straight. I’m glad He can.

So Hebrews 6:10 was a big encouragement to me this morning.

10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers,[a] as you still do.

God has a long memory. He can remember everything about everyone, the good and the bad. His memory is perfect.  (That gives new significance to Him saying He will forget all ours sins, doesn’t it?) And He remembers the good we do for each other.

Do you ever feel like you’re out there doing the right thing all the time and nobody notices? Do you ever feel like you sacrifice constantly to do the right thing and you never see the reward for it? I feel like that a lot. There are so many times when I could do what I want to do and nobody would know the difference except God and me — but knowing that God sees everything I do is enough for me to do what I need to do instead of what I want to do. But it’s still frustrating. Because doing what’s right and good is so much harder than just doing what feels right and good (which is usually the opposite of right and good).

It’s frustrating. And it’s lonely. Because you feel completely alone when you do the right thing. Because most of the time doing the right thing puts you in the background where no one will notice you. And you can’t step up and claim ownership over the good things you’ve done — most of the time that will cause more trouble. A good example is if you forgive someone who doesn’t realize they hurt you (for whatever reason). You forgive them, but they don’t even realize the “sacrifice” you’ve made in not feeling bitter against them. But for them to know how difficult it was for you to forgive them, you’d have to tell them that they hurt you. And then they’ll get hurt and then you’ll both start fighting . . . You see what I mean?

Sometimes doing the right thing means you have to keep your mouth shut. It means you have to stay in the background. It means you have to act in the shadows where no one can see you and where you get zero recognition.

But even if people forget about you, know that God never does. God sees everything. He sees your heart. He understands your motivation. And He doesn’t forget. He doesn’t forget the good things that you’ve done for other people. He doesn’t forget the sacrifices that you’ve made to help others. He doesn’t forget anything you’ve done for Him or for other believers or for people who don’t believe.

So if you’re feeling depressed or discouraged or alone this morning, think about this verse. And don’t stop doing the right thing even if it’s hard. Doing the right thing is always harder than doing what’s easy. But in the end it’s worth it. And even if no one else notices, God sees. And He’s the one who matters anyway.