Putting Broken Pieces Together
None of us can escape the harm that comes from living in a world ravaged by sin. Often our suffering is caused not by strangers but by those closest to us--a father who rejects his child, a wife who deceives her husband, a teacher who abuses his students, a coworker who sabotages her colleagues. Such offenses can be traumatic. How can we deal with the memory of our hurts in a way that breaks the cycle of pain and opens the door to a greater sense of God's peace?
In his book, The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan explains that "to remember is, literally, to put broken pieces back together, to re-member. It is to create an original wholeness out of what has become scattered fragments." This definition dovetails with the whole meaning of the word shalom, which can be defined as wholeness. So to remember rightly means to restore someone or something to a state of wholeness. Remembering wrongly, by contrast, guarantees that nothing will be put back together right. The original wound will continue to fester. The fracture may heal but it will heal crookedly.
Consider a man who has lost his job. He's sure that coworkers had been badmouthing him, spreading rumors to get him fired. Unfortunately, their ploy seems to have worked. Unable to find another job, the man nurses his bitterness, cursing his former coworkers for the way they have slandered him. During the few interviews he does get, he can't help complaining about how badly he was mistreated at his last job. As time passes, the man becomes more frustrated and angry, bent on revenge.
Now here's how the story might have played out had this same man been able to remember rightly. He knows his coworkers have slandered him and that this may have cost him his job. Resisting the urge for revenge, he prays, telling God how angry he is. After a while he begins to calm down and invites God to examine his heart. As he prays, he recalls negative remarks he made about some of his coworkers. True, their offense was far worse than his, but he hadn't exactly been an angel. As he thinks through the situation, he admits that he had been worried about his job for a long time. Maybe his boss was telling the truth when he told him he was letting him go because his skills weren't up to par. By opening himself to God's Spirit in prayer and by asking to know the whole truth about what happened, this man may well discover it. He asks for pardon and for the grace to forgive those who've hurt him. His honesty and magnanimity toward those who have hurt him, made possible by God's grace, act as a shield against bitterness, enabling him to learn and grow. Instead of becoming imprisoned by bitter memories, he transcends them and experiences healing.
As Miroslav Volf, author of The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, points out, "We are not just shaped by memories: we ourselves shape the memories that shape us." It is possible to load our memories with falsehoods, to skew them in a way that makes the person or people who have hurt us look even worse than they are. It is also possible to remember in a way that denies any responsibility we may bear. Memory can inflate the wrong, painting the perpetrator in demonic proportions at the same time it depicts us as more saintly and peace-loving then we are.