The holidays for me, like many of you I’m sure, are a mixed bag. Christmas is not only a wonderful season of thinking about the gift of God in the flesh. It is also a time of tasty traditional foods, gift-giving, great fun with family and friends, and happy memories of previous holidays with those dear to us.
Yet Christmas is also a time to remember the loss of loved ones. It’s a time to miss family traditions no longer possible because of long distance. It’s a time to think about all that I could have done better in the past year.
So at moments, I’m filled with great joy of all that is before me. But then at times feel the pain of what once was, what could be, and what I hope is better in the year to come. For much of the time when I’m in these moments, I’ve forgotten. I’m not remembering.
Wait, how can you forget while remembering what once was? Well, much of what I’m “remembering” is clouded and weighed down by my desire to change and control my current circumstances. I unconsciously think that I know what would be best for me now. I’ve forgotten that God is with me, that God’s plans for me and my family are far better than I could determine for myself. I’ve forgotten God’s promises that he’s kept in the past. I’ve forgotten all the promises I’m anticipating that he will fulfill. I’ve forgotten that I’m not God, and that I desperately want God to be God.
This doesn’t mean I can’t think of and miss my grandmother who died on Christmas day five years ago. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t think of the mistakes I’ve made this year and want to change in the next. But what it means is that faith in God’s presence, plan, and promises, regardless of life’s circumstances, should always blanket all my thoughts and actions. When the eyes of my heart are focused on these truths then it’s possible to rejoice always and be thankful in every circumstance, even in the situations that are painful and full of tears.
So what am I saying?
First, I’m saying there are two ways to remember: (1) we remember things wrongly when formulated on the foundation of wanting to be God, which is motived by our dissatisfaction with God; or (2) we remember rightly on the sure foundation that God is God and he is good.
Second, therefore, to remember properly is essential, not for just “surviving” the next go around of holidays with a good attitude but for living life between the now-and-not-yet. To remember and not to forget is paramount to living by faith, to trust God’s word, to rejoice in all circumstances, to defeat the enemy’s lies, to persevere, and to be the person God has made you to be.
Forgetful Remembrance: When the Israelites were brought out of Egypt by the outstretched arm of the Lord it was an event to remember. The Passover broke the stubbornness of Pharaoh long enough for a couple million people to flee Egypt. It convinced the Egyptians to give them their silver, gold, and clothing. And everything God did was motivated by compassion for his people, who groaned under the harsh slavery of Pharaoh.
Sadly this huge event was quickly forgotten. Many times, even in the context of miracles, out of fear or dissatisfaction with God’s provision Israel questions his goodness. In these moments they forget crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, but remember “the good old days” in Egypt. They remember when they had water to drink and the “fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons … but now there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Num. 11) In other words, God’s provision is rubbish and Pharaoh’s provision was delicious. They in their hardheartedness forget their good God’s care in order to remember the “good food” of their former Despot.
If in moments of despair we forget who God is and what he has done for us, and only remember and ponder how things should be, we’re no different than the immature Israelites. They, in the context of God’s tangible care for them, begin to grumble in their tents “because the LORD hates us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt…” (Deut. 1:27) Which again, forgets the truth that God “heard their cry for rescue from slavery,” that “God saw the people of Israel–and God knew.” (Ex. 2:23-25)
Remembering through Thanksgiving: In difficult situations and moments of despair our God doesn’t expect us to do the impossible and volitionally stop feeling sorrow. Rather we are called to remember something far greater.
Moses, in his farewell sermon, repeatedly called Israel to remember their rescue. By remembering that Yahweh had set his love on them, Moses explained, they would walk with him, keep his instructions, receive incredible blessing, and remain in the land. To remember that God is with us allows us to boldly walk where he wants us to go, even in a land inhabited by powerful giants.
And Moses’ plea is no different than Paul’s in his letter to the Philippians. To rejoice in every circumstance, to stand firm in all situations, is to remember all that God has done by being thankful for what he has done. Remembering through thanksgiving can protect us from bitterness and depression, especially when you are living in or reliving your greatest fears and pain.
What sorrow or pain could be greater than the preposterous reality that the Father of the universe loves us even as he loves his eternal Son? What could be greater than Jesus, the Son of God, considering you and me more significant than himself? So much so that he died on the cross for us when we hated him? This God will never leave you nor forsake you, no matter what you’ve done or how you feel. This God will provide for your every need and knows your needs better than you do.
What a God to remember! What a great God to cling to more in the coming year and the next season of holidays!