Developing a selective memory

Unless you are someone with a razor sharp memory, you probably don’t need a scientific study to convince you of the reality of selective memory. You can remember that night ten years ago when, for some stupid reason you allowed yourself to be talked into singing karaoke, yet you can’t remember where you put your car keys and you were holding them only ten minutes ago.

Such is the unpredictability and unreliability of our memories.

However, a scientific study led by a Gerd Thomas Waldhauser from Lund university in Sweden, has claimed to be able to pinpoint the exact moment a memory is forgotten and claims that it is possible to erase memories altogether.

Developing a selective memory is advocated in scripture as a way of developing our spirituality and growing in our faith.

In the prophecy of Isaiah, God, speaking to His exiled people exhorts them both to forget and remember:

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
(Isaiah 43.18)

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
(Isaiah 46.9)

What is God saying? Is He saying forget the past? Or remember the past? Both!

God doesn’t want His people to remember the shame of the past and their past sins. It’s as though God is saying to Israel, “Forget it! Move on!”

God does not want us to be locked into our past. He has forgotten our sins – and He expects us to forget them as well. According to Micah 7.19, He has hurled our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

Paul developed the art of memory loss: his pressing on to fulfil his calling entailed forgetting what was behind and straining toward what was ahead (Phil.3.14)

At the same time, God counsels us to remember. To remember His works. To recall His grace in our lives. For Israel that meant recalling, in particular, the events of the exodus, when God brought His people out of Egypt. For us, it means recalling the death and resurrection of Christ, which is brought into sharp focus at communion: this do in remembrance of me.

It can also mean reminding ourselves of our experience of God’s grace and faithfulness throughout our lives. However, going back to the cross and the empty tomb takes us back to the bedrock of our faith and the eternal love of God guaranteed in the eternal covenant He made through the work of His Son.

How exactly do we develop a selective memory? Perhaps the most basic key is to do with what we feed our minds on. Isaiah 43.18 talks about dwelling on the past. Or as The Message puts it: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.”

Do we allow our mental tapes to play on a continuous loop the discordant music of our own failure and pain? Or do we actively click “play” on the grace tracks?

Monday morning is a good time to create a new playlist for the week ahead. Why not load your mind with grace, forgiveness, acceptance, righteousness, joy, peace and all those other healthy things that the Bible says should take up our mental space (Phil. 4.8)?

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