What to Keep, What to Free

My mom, soon to hit 92 years, says in old age you forget what you ought to remember and recall what you ought to turn loose of.

Remembering has always been a problem for God’s people. “When you come into the Promised Land,” Moses warned the children of Israel, “and move into houses you did not build, take over crops you did not plant, and eat victuals you did not grow, then beware lest you forget the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 6:12)

The theme of half the sermons from Old Testament prophets was the same: “Remember, O Israel.” A classmate of mine at the seminary wrote his doctoral paper on the Hebrew word “Zakar,” “remember.”

But there is a lot to be said for forgetting, too. Much in our lives does not need to be retained.

Now comes the story of 42-year-old Jill Price, a California woman who remembers everything. Not that she wants to. Ever since she was 8 years old, beginning in 1974, her mind appears to have switched on some feature the rest of us do not have and wouldn’t want in a thousand years. From 1980 forward, she has “near perfect” recall on everything.

By “everything,” we mean what she had for dinner, what she watched on television, the news that night, the temperature, conversations, everything.

Jill Price’s story is told in a new book–Newsweek of May 19, 2008, calls it “the weirdest book of the year”–by the title “The Woman Who Can’t Forget.”

A professor of neurobiology at the University of California, Irvine, James L. McGaugh, has studied Jill Price for five years, giving her every kind of scientific test imaginable, and coined the name for her condition: “hyperthymestic syndrome.” It means her memory is over-developed. Which is like saying the Eiffel Tower is tall. Is it ever!

Over these years, Professor McGaugh has found two other persons afflicted with the same inability to turn loose of yesterday. One of them, Brad Williams, 51, a radio announcer, remembers everything back to age 4, and like the other two, is a compulsive collector of memorabilia (beanie babies, “Flintstone” junk, etc).

Jill Price admits she was a pain to grow up with. “I was always correcting my parents about things they claimed I had said, or that they had said to me, which, as you can imagine, didn’t go over very well.”

Newsweek reporter Jerry Adler writes, “But the sobering thing about Price’s book is how banal most of her memories are. The days go by, lunch follows breakfast, 10th grade turns inexorably into 11th and a lot of the time, as McGaugh says, you just hang out.”

My hunch is not a single soul reading this has given thanks lately for the ability to forget. I know I haven’t. But I will from now on.


So many things in our past need to be thrown away, the door closed on it, and that space never revisited again. Now, being a pastor, I would have said the obvious here–and will anyway, since some people require the cookies being placed on the lowest shelf–such as sins that have been forgiven. No need to dredge them up again; they’re gone. God promises in both testaments that “their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.” (Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17)

If He forgets them, so may we. Thank God. Those who cannot turn loose of forgiven sins burden themselves with the minutae of yesterday’s slights and offenses, neglects and omissions, and limit their ability to function today.

Something else it’s great to forget is slights and hurts inflicted by others. “Love is not quick to take offense,” says I Corinthians 13:5 (in some translations). Don’t we all appreciate a friend who ignores neglect or foolishness on our part!

While we want to forget the sins which Christ paid for and God forgave, what we must not forget is the fact of that forgiveness. The Apostle Peter lists a number of Godly virtues we would do well to practice. If they are yours, he writes, and if they are growing, the result will be to make you useful and fruitful in Christ’s knowledge. However: “he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” (II Peter 1:9)

A sign of health in an individual is that his memory and his forgetter function appropriately. He recalls what he ought to keep and forgets everything that is unnecessary or toxic.

Sin, as it does in every other area of our lives, messes with our memory and fouls up our forgetter. We start reliving old pains and wrongs, mediating over ancient slights and miseries, salivating over sins and stupidities of earlier years. A graphic line from Proverbs comes to mind here: “Like a dog that returns to its vomit, is a fool who repeats his folly.” (Pr. 26:11)

The same little New Testament epistle that reminded us not to forget our “purification from former sins,” repeats the line about the dog’s vomit and adds another: returning to one’s former sins is like a sow re-entering her muddy wallow.

The Lord Jesus provided two ordinances to assist us in recalling the most important aspects of His life–the Lord’s supper shows His death, and baptism (when done correctly) pictures His burial and resurrection. He knew we needed help with our remembering.

I also need help with my forgetting, Lord. Got any ordinances for that?

I recall reading of a godly woman who was having a nice chat with a lady who had been particularly despiteful to her in former years. Someone watching that scene approached her later. “How can you treat her so kindly after what she did to you?”

She answered, “Oh, I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

Albert Einstein was once asked for his home phone number. He walked over to the desk, pulled out a phone book, and looked it up. His visitor was stunned. “The amazing Einstein does not remember his own phone number?”

Einstein said,”I refuse to clutter my mind with information easily obtainable elsewhere.”

Ah, what to remember, what to forget.

“Help us, Father.”

And that, children, is why we have Memorial Day.

1 thought on “What to Keep, What to Free

  1. I am glad that in Eternity, we will not remember sin, sickness, sorrow and death and pain.

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