Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
From the New Testament of the Bible, Matthew 11 v 28 – 30, the promise of Christ Jesus
Happy New Year from a freezing London. This is slightly belated, but if I manage one post this month, that would be an achievement. Let’s make a start.
I am not a neurologist or a paediatrician, but as far as I have observed, babies are not born with memories. By some miraculous process over our lifetime we collect and store information, whether words or images or feelings, and call on these at a later time. If our memories serve us well and we learn from both good and bad experiences, we should grow in maturity and wisdom. We avoid making the same mistakes and pursue instead the path that leads to health and happiness.
What made me very sad when looking after my elderly mother is that she has largely lost her memory. She is not unwell (in the sense of dying) and she does not have dementia. It’s just that the process of ageing and some alteration to her regular medication has brought about a dramatic slowing down of things.
If you have cared or are caring for an elderly friend or family member then this is familiar territory. I need not go into specifics. You will recognise the landscape where as soon as a moment has passed, the process of remembering needs to start all over again. It is like your memory is made up of those rows of dots that appear on the screen of the Pac-Man video game, but as soon as it appears, Pac-Man comes along to gobble up the dots. In your role as child, friend, carer, you will never manage to be that ghost that thwarts Pac-Man’s advances. With memory loss, the dots simply disappear and Pac-Man always wins.
Whilst it is sad when a person is losing or has lost their memory, in another sense it is a relief. There are times when a memory pops into my head out of nowhere, possibly triggered by an event, a scene or a conversation happening around me. Then I think, could I have reacted in a kinder, gentler, less hasty way in that past such-and-such situation? I hope the other person was not traumatised by any act or omission on my part. I hope they forget.
One day my mother’s mind was clear enough for her to ask: what is the saddest word in the world? Since she has asked this question multiple times before, I already know the answer. So I humour her and say the world’s saddest word(s) are ‘I have no money’ to which she corrects me promptly and says the world’s saddest words are ‘if only…’.
I know there are many things in her life that my mother would have liked to have changed. I want to tell her that we cannot turn back time and that we must let go of things. Why squander a future for a past we cannot alter? But there are too many words in these phrases, which she will forget as soon as I utter them. So I do what I always do when I need to shift attention away from a subject, which is to ask my mother if she needs to go to the toilet. As I said, she is extremely forgetful, so a trip to the bathroom is always a good distraction. At the same time I always make her walk another round before returning to the armchair.
I cannot change the past. No one can, not even God. What we can do is to avoid any regret, the ‘if only…’ that can haunt us for a lifetime. Christians have been given the means to help with this. In-built into the model prayer that Jesus taught his disciples are the words lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. ‘Lead us not into temptation’ is a prayer for protection from falling into the everyday evils that surround us. ‘Deliver us from evil’ acknowledges that sometimes we do fail, and is a plea for mitigation of the effects of our failings.
This line of the prayer, comforting as it is, cannot give us a blank slate whereby we can wipe away all our wrongdoings and start again. For this, we need an act of grace that only God can provide (wrongdoing in the Bible is always ultimately against God). In a previous post I mentioned that I hate being late, but if I am unavoidably held up my prayer is always: God, if I cannot be early, please make the other person late. Unless we lose our memory, the wrongs we have committed will always resurface to plague us. In this situation we can pray: God, if I cannot forget, please can you not remember?
The wonderful thing is that the Bible promises that the person who repents (that old-fashioned word that simply means feeling remorse for, and turning away from, the wrong you have done) will find forgiveness in God:
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger for ever
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us
From the Old Testament of the Bible, Psalm 103 v 8 – 12
I never make new year resolutions, but I always aim to start again in certain areas of my life which have become too messy. This year I also started a wonderful new reading plan to go through the Bible in one year. I am quite surprised that I had forgotten so many details from the great narratives of Genesis. The Psalms have been a comfort to me on bad days, and there is a healthy account of the life of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.
Personal Update: Sadly, my dear father-in-law passed away on Sunday 7 January. He was admitted to hospital having suffered a cerebral haemorrhage on Boxing Day. Despite the care and attention of the NHS, the damage caused to his system was too massive from which to recover. The flowers in this post are from our lovely friends who dropped by with their good wishes and offers of help.