Some things we want to forget. But the more we try, the more tenaciously they grip us. Even if we manage to bury them in busyness or diversions, they can still keep rolling in an undercurrent beneath our consciousness, affecting our lives more than we realize.
One sharp student in a sixth-grade class of mine cleverly demonstrated this phenomenon one day by challenging me, “Don’t think about elephants!”
Elephants? Until she’d said not to think about them, they were the furthest thing from my mind! Afterward, I couldn’t get them out of it!
So how do you forget the bigger, more emotionally charged things? …
My valentine was different this year. No preprinted, commercially produced sentiment inside. Instead, a blank card created by a local workshop for disabled adults. The buyer was to write his own message inside.
The one I read when I opened the card gave me pause. At first I didn’t quite know what it referred to.
“Thank you for making what had become a very sad day of the year into a day of renewed hope and joy for me…”
Huh? Very sad day…?
Suddenly, I remembered with a jolt. It had indeed been terribly sad.
February 14th, Valentine’s Day, day for promoting and celebrating marital love, was the day he buried his first wife, after her very tragic death.
“Oh!” I said, looking up from the reading. “I forgot about that!”
Surprisingly he answered quietly, “I did, too. I don’t really know why I’ve been remembering it so much this year.”
I knew. Someone seeking answers about the tragedy’s effects on family members had contacted him recently, and he’d had to rack his brain and go back and relive that time to comb up possible answers.
What seemed amazing now to me was how over the decades he’d come to “forget.”
Of course he hadn’t in the fullest sense. If someone had asked, he could have quickly named dates, even hours: facts filed firmly in mental archives. The sharp, living moments, however, no longer haunted with vivid pain.
Despite the card’s sentiment, my presence alone didn’t heal his trauma. Many eventual, gradual changes—of residence, occupation, church family, even physical environment and social milieu, had removed daily reminders and given new points of focus. Working through the kind of recurring remembrance episodes that sweep in unexpectedly like tsunamis was important, too.
Changing focus and associations, facing and working through resurfacing memories: those all help heal. And if our central focus is Christ and we bring our griefs, and “re-griefs,” honestly before Him to process and place back in His hands, the fierceness fades, as do the haunting thoughts and feelings.
Grief, forgiveness, recovery from trauma, all take time and repeated reworking. I think we try to tie it up it too fast and tidy, snapping, “Oh, it doesn’t bother me!” or “I forgive him!” when we haven’t worked through the process at all. We leave ourselves a lot of unfinished business that will keep popping up later, when we might least expect, nagging us to tend to all those tattered loose ends, one by painful one.
Time only heals if we let it do its finished work. We don’t assuage grief by not grieving. We don’t build something new without picking up the trowel and the first figurative brick. And we don’t effectively forget, in the sense of truly putting the issue to rest, without the effort of adequate remembering.
Most importantly, if our hearts get fixed on something more compelling than… say, elephants… what we tried so hard yet failed to forget in our own power fades from view, as these sweet lyrics attest…
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
look full in His wonderful face,
and the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
in the light of His glory and grace.”