When a friend turned fifty sometime back, I wrote this humorous rhyme:
You’ve reached the age where once again you play at hide and seek.
Your playmates aren’t the kids next door, but facts you try to speak.
So much of what you once recalled gets stuck inside your mind.
Like popcorn hulls between your teeth, some thought get caught you find.
But gratefully it’s just a stage. It’s not a total loss.
You’ll do just fine if you can find a string of mental floss.
But truth be told loss of memory is no laughing matter. In my ten years as a chaplain at a retirement community, I observed the downside of aging. Growing older comes with the inevitable losses associated with the increased number of candles on our birthday cake. There is the loss of energy. There is the loss of strength and dexterity. There is the loss of hearing. Sadly, there can be the loss of a mate. And, too often, there can also be the loss of memory.
In addition to shepherding individuals in our memory care facility during the final months of their lives, I experienced the challenges of memory loss on a personal level. I watched my own mother navigate the confusing maze of Alzheimer’s Disease over the course of a decade. Gratefully, my little mom never lost her ability to express love to her family or acknowledge her gratitude to God. And she never forgot how to play the piano. She was playing hymns on the baby grand in her care facility up until a couple weeks before she died.
Dementia is an unkind companion of too many people we love. The cost it exacts far exceeds what families pay out for residential care. And yet I’ve come to see that it’s not just the elderly who exhibit memory loss. As a man of the cloth, I have witnessed in my forty-five years of ministry the frequency with which people of faith forget the faithfulness of God. I call it spiritual dementia.
Spiritual dementia is the tendency we have as humans to lose sight of times in our lives when prayers have been answered. We tend to forget how God’s presence sustained us in the midst of heartache or hardship. Having learned lessons of trust through trials and challenges, it is so easy to lose sight of how God came through in the past. The Old Testament is filled with examples of the Children of Israel not remembering what they had once known. And the tendency of God’s people to forget milestones of deliverance and provisions resulted in a lack of gratitude and an abundance of problems.
Remembering is the key. Long before my mom dealt with the demons of memory loss, she taught my brother and me the correlation between memory and gratitude. As little boys we heard our mom repeatedly remind us to “remember to say thanks” whenever we were invited to family friends for dinner. But her reminder to polite extends far beyond having good manners. “Remember to say thanks” is the two-step dance that enables us to recognize just how wealthy we really are. Being grateful is the by-product of looking back at our blessings. No wonder I have never forgotten my mom’s refrain.
As this season of Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself focused on the importance of remembering. In our family we take time between the main meal and dessert to go around the table and verbalize those things for which we are thankful. Generalities are not permitted. Specifics are what is expected. And specifics are not all that hard to come up with if time has been spent reflecting on the goodness of God over the past year.
The author of Psalm 107 knows the correlation between memory and gratitude. Note how he begins his instructions:“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their stories…”
So what’s your story? Looking back and reviewing the goodness of the Lord will remind you that gratitude is not a mindless exercise. It takes focus and concentration. It takes remembering. Memory is the key!
Guest columnist Greg Asimakoupoulos is a former chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.