Time does not heal all wounds
I have a distinct memory of my Dad crying. My Dad was not a very emotional guy, so when I saw him in tears as he walked out of a shed on the farm he grew up on, it left a mark. The family farm was up for auction, and the clan had gathered to prepare things for the crowds that would come. Something in that shed triggered a memory in my Dad, and he was a blubbering mess in front of me. What was it? I never knew. And I still wonder if that memory impacted the way my Dad fathered me.
Dealing With Painful Memories
There are memories in our lives, and in peoples and nations, that are carried for years. Painful pasts, sins against us, and sins we have committed don’t just disappear. Memories linger and eventually overflow the carefully manicured banks of the rivers of our lives and flood those around us with the unreconciled muck of the past. Past memories of what happened between French and English, Settlers and First Nations, Germans and Jews, Hutus and Tutsis, Crusaders and Muslims, Muslims and Yazidis, Protestants and Catholics, one town to another, one family to another (like the infamous Hatfields and McCoys), or one sibling to another don’t just go away.
Time does not heal all wounds. Time can, in fact, make them fester like a deep infection that eventually pusses painfully. Our memories need the healing God alone can bring, else the warring may pause but will not end. Unhealed memories literally erupt into massive conflicts among nations. And, unhealed memories produce ineffective ambassadors of Christ who are called to bring God’s healing to those nations.
Time does not heal all wounds. Time can, in fact, make them fester like a deep infection that eventually pusses painfully.
Scripture reveals God intricately concerned about the healing memories.
The first painful memory recorded in Scripture happens between brothers. Cain kills Abel. Cain is deeply aware that others will not forget what he has done. Yet, even though there are consequences for Cain’s wicked act, God marks Cain to ensure that though people may bear a grudge, God marks the memory with the scandal of grace (Genesis 4:15). God is different.
God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations through him is a healing of the memory of the curse that has beset us all east of Eden (Genesis 12:1-3). When the Hebrews cry out because all they can remember is slavery, it is God who “remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Exodus 2:24).
The exodus and deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt is marked by Passover, a distinct new memory-making ritual of a people who are now not only free from the drudgery of slavery, but forever free from their memory of slavery and the temptation to return to that identity.
Forgive and Forget?
God remembers differently than us. We remember wounds and trauma. We regret. We return to our pasts like a dog returning to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11). We act and live out of regrets, wounds, and trauma that we or the people we were born into have experienced. God, conversely, remembers covenant. God, astoundingly, forgets sin (Isaiah 43:25).
In the New Testament, this culminates in the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus said his broken body and blood spilled violently on the cross is the new covenant for many, and at the Lord’s table, we have a new memory-making ritual (Matthew 26:28). Forgiveness and the healing of memories are inseparable. We need freedom from sin, but we also need freedom from the memories of the old identities, wounds, generational sins and even lies that shaped us.
God forgives and remembers our sins no more (Hebrews 8:12), but we humans don’t so easily forget. We tell stories about wounds long past and forget what we should celebrate. When our memories remain unhealed, we too easily repeat those tragic and treasonous sins of the past – crusading as those carrying the cross of forgiveness while slaughtering our enemies because the present is stirring up past wounds like a stick muddying the waters of what we thought was a clear-flowing stream.
When our memories remain unhealed, we too easily repeat those tragic and treasonous sins of the past.
Slow down and consider:
- What memory makes you cry and run?
- What memories do you live with that are not healthy?
- How are those memories impacting you?
- How are they impacting others through you or your people?
Healing memories requires trusting the Holy Spirit’s leading. It demands we name and tell the truth about the memories we cling to. It requires courageously building trust and restoring relationships with those we wounded, or who wounded us, or who represent the wound. It means applying the forgiveness won for us by Christ on the cross to our past so we can freely run forward (as Peter had to do after the resurrection as he walked with Jesus into his painful memories of denial and cowardice – John 21:15-23). It demands we do justly – righting or restoring what remains broken through prayer and acts of love, restitution, and sacrifice.
This, as you know, is not easy work. Our memories can be scary places we simply want to avoid. We will probably need help. We will probably stumble our way forward. But are you ready to at least take the smallest step? The ambassador of Christ and his ministry of reconciliation must go there.