What seniors should do with those old, painful memories

Turn them off, turn them over to Him, or turn them into gold.

“Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17). 

God has a healthy forgetter; we should too.  The things that need forgetting, we give to him and walk away from.  Even if they are not entirely forgotten, we are free from their effects.

My wife Bertha and I were talking about memories the other day.  We each have a lifetime of remembrances to share with each other since we were in our 70s when we met.  We were each 75 when we married.

She said, “Each of us has a wagonload of memories of God’s people who have loved us and cared for us.  But we also have our share of painful memories that I sometimes wish I could edit out of my life.”

She continued, “But the Holy Spirit showed me something.  If He were to remove all the memories of the pain and strife, He would also be removing the lovely things that happened during the same time.”

So, we keep all the memories.  But we treat them differently.

Often, when I’m doing a funeral of a parent, I’ll say to the family, “No parent ever got it right all the time. So, if any of you have any painful memories of something your dad or mom did or failed to do, may I make a suggestion to you?  Give it to the Lord.  Forgive them.”

“After all,” I’ll say, “One of these days it will be us lying here in the casket and our family will be gathered around. And we’ll sure hope that none of them are carrying painful memories of some failure of ours from years ago.”

“Just give it up to the Lord.”

“Scripture says, ‘Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.’  I figure when I stand before the Lord at Judgement I’m going to need all the mercy I can get. So, I sure want to show mercy to others in this life.”

Once when I was writing about a lesson learned during a difficult pastorate from some years back, an acquaintance said to me, “When are you going to get past that?”  I said, “I’m long past the pain of it, but hope never to get past the lessons of it.”

David said, “It is good that I was afflicted that I may learn Thy law” (Psalm 119:71).  Some lessons we learn only through the pain.

A friend messaged today to say he had taken my advice after the death of his wife.  “Going through all the stuff at the house,” he said, “I would often come across her journals.”  I remember that experience so well.  My wife did not keep a journal consistently, but would start one for a few weeks, then abandon it, only to begin anew in a different book. So I must have come across a dozen bits and pieces of journals.

His experience was similar, he said.

The friend said, “Those journals were painful to read. Some days I was her hero and some days all her problems were my fault.”

So, what did you do?

“I did the same thing you did,” he said.

“Burned every last one of them.”

Does that seem drastic?  It was the right thing to do.  Those painful days were in the past.  That husband and wife had lived through them, had done the best they could presumably, and now, God had removed the wife from the pain and taken her home to Heaven.  For the husband to read those old notes and experience once again the pain would have meant surrendering to the despair and despondency that comes from seeing a friend in great need while unable to do anything about it.

Some memories we walk away from.

We close the door on them and walk away. We forgive one another, we give the matter to the Lord Jesus Christ, and then we forgive ourselves.

No husband and no wife ever got it right all the time.  I have read enough of the lives and times of Billy and Ruth Graham to know they got off-track once in a while. And I’m more than a little relieved by that, to tell the truth.  They were like the rest of us: human.

I take comfort in Psalm 103:14. “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”  And here’s why….

God is under no illusion about you and me.  The One who created us knows we are made of humble stuff.  He knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us.

Carve that in stone somewhere. Take it to the bank. It’s the reason God still loves you and me after we have done some of the foolhardy stunts we have.

You too?  You betcha! We have all sinned and come short. There is none righteous, no not one.  It is not in man who walks to direct his owns steps. And a lot of things like that!

In the latter years of my father’s life he began to relive a painful memory from his 18th year.  He was the eldest of what would eventually be an even dozen children, and had left school following the seventh grade to go to work. At 14, he’d started working inside the coal mines alongside his father.  “I did a man’s work for a man’s pay,” he said.  In fact, his paycheck went to make the payment on the family dwelling.

When he was 18, his mother–my wonderful Grandma Bessie, whom I adored as one of the finest Christian women ever!–had run him away from home.  It turns out Dad and his brother Marion could not get along and were constantly fighting.  “He was irresponsible,” Dad would say, “and I was the one working, earning a living. So why did she make me leave home?  It wasn’t fair.”

For some reason, that memory would not leave Dad alone, even though he was in his early 90s and Grandma had been in Heaven for decades.  When the family tried to reason with him, nothing worked.  On a visit home to see my parents–I lived 400 miles away–I tried my hand at counseling my father.

I said, “Dad, you were capable of living on your own. So it made sense for her to make you leave.”

That didn’t get through to him.

I said, “Dad, remember, it was the Depression and times were hard and she had a houseful of children. The dear lady just needed some peace and one of you had to go!”

But why him and not Marion, he wanted to know.

Finally, I said, “Well, Dad, let’s assume Grandma made a mistake. Every parent gets it wrong sometime.” And then, I leaned forward and asked a loaded question:  “Dad, when you and Mom were raising us, did you ever get it wrong sometimes and make a mistake?”

Remember, I’m child number 4.  I know the answer to this question.

He said, “Not that I can remember.”

I stifled the urge to scream.  (“What???  Pull up a chair and I’ll give you a list!”)

Memory was having a field day with my elderly father, causing him to forget things he should rightfully remember and to call up things better off left buried in the dim recesses of his past.

When I was nine years old, my Dad–this same wonderful gentleman whom I loved with all my heart–did something so cruel that the memory of it surfaced fifty years later and left me in tears.

While on a trip through West Virginia, I ran by Beckley where we lived from the time I was 7 until I was 11.  Halfway through those four years, I had had hip surgery at the hospital in Beckley.  The memory of those 11 days in that ancient medical center are fresh to this day.  And I wanted to see the hospital.

There it was.  Empty, deserted.  Condemned.  A sign said a new hospital had been built out on the interstate.  The neighborhood around that old hospital was also deteriorating.

I stood on the corner of the property where the old highway still runs. We would catch the bus at the coal camp where we lived and ride the five miles into town to see the doctors.  Usually, it was Dad and me.  We did this numerous times before my hospitalization and several followup visits afterwards.  As I looked across the street at an old building now housing a tire company, the memory of one incident returned and left me in tears.

That used to be a drug store. With a soda fountain.

We had been in the hospital to see the doctors and were waiting on the bus.  I suppose we must have had some time to kill, because my Dad did something out of character for him.  “Son,” he said, “would you like to go into that drug store and get something?”  I said, “Sir?” not believing my ears.  He repeated it.

All my brief life I’d heard of people going into drug stores and sitting at the soda fountain and having a burger and soda.  I never knew anyone who did it, but I’d heard of it.

So, when Dad made the offer, I said, “I’d like to go inside and get a hamburger and coke.”

Suddenly, he erupted in a string of profanity that cut this little child off at the knees.

What just happened? I wondered. And had no clue.

Nothing more was said and we stood there until the bus came.

That was 1949.  And this was 1999 and I was on the same spot, remembering the incident. And weeping for the child.

A few weeks later, back at home in New Orleans, a friend who was a prayer warrior if God ever had one came to me. She had heard me tell that story in a particular setting.  “I want to pray with you,” she said.  And then she did something I’d never had happen before.

In her prayer, Pam Mancuso took me into the Throne room of Heaven with her and we laid this awful memory down at the feet of Jesus and left them there. They became an offering to Him.

When she finished praying, I was healed.  The pain was gone.

My dad was still living at that time–he had eight more years to go before the Father took him–but I never mentioned the incident to him.  I didn’t need to.  In the first place, I knew he would not remember it. And for me to tell it now would just give him pain.  And then, I was healed and it no longer troubled me.

A friend who had heard my initial telling of the story came to me afterwards. Gail Smith said, “Brother Joe, now I know why you have such a tender heart.  That story is the clue.”

So, God had taken a pain and made it into gold.  He does that a lot, doesn’t He?



2 thoughts on “What seniors should do with those old, painful memories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.