Almost all of us remember the theme song that Bob Hope used throughout most of his career, it was actually entitled Thanks for the Memories.
Unfortunately, what theologians call memories can be some of the most significant distractions to our daily prayer life.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.” (Isaiah 43:18)
In theology, the term memory does not mean a series of pictures from the past events of our life. It is actually our entire collective human experience as an individual, up to this very moment. Memory makes us who we are, or rather, who we perceive ourselves to be, both the good and the bad. St Augustine actually described memory as the way we come to understand ourselves, it is our perception of ourselves from all of what we have experienced in life. This is a somewhat complicated theological issue about how our thoughts can impact prayer, but the following is a relatively brief explanation.
Throughout our lives we all have millions of individual experiences, both good and bad. And we also make millions of decisions for ourselves. And obviously we make more and more decisions for ourselves as we get older and have more independence. As a result of all these experiences and decisions, we all live with four main influencers in our lives that are linked to both the past and the future.
You see we all live with what is referred to as regret and recovery. Inevitably, some of our decisions lead to regrets, those things we wish we had not done—we all have them. There are also those things from our past we wish had not happened to us. Some were mere accidents, and some were the result of the uncharitable actions of other people.
On the other hand, there are those elements of our lives we would like to recover. These are the things we might wish we could get back in our life. For some it is our youth, or our health, or maybe a previous financial situation. For others it may be a broken or lost relationship that we would like to recover. This can happen when we lose someone we love.
As for the future, we all experience fear and favor. Put another way, we all have fears of the unknown regarding what is going to happen to us or those close to us. But we also have plans for the future that we favor, things we would like to see happen for us or for our loved ones.
All of this is just the human experience; it is simply a natural part of life. The problem is when we unintentionally allow all of these influences to invade our prayer life. When this happens, these influences can rob us of one of the most important requirements for effective prayer, something we call equanimity, or a calmness of spirit.
Worse than that, these influences can take away one of the most important benefits we should derive from prayer, and that is this same equanimity. Prayer should leave us in a state of peace about our lives.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
We lose our peace when we gain a false perception of ourselves and others through these influences. Again, these perceptions can be either good or bad about ourselves and others, but regardless of their nature, they are never completely accurate.
Our human perceptions are not perfect for the simple reason that all of us are wounded in some ways, and these wounds distort our perceptions of reality. Furthermore, our perceptions lead us to form false expectations, both of ourselves, of other people, and of God. And finally, our expectations lead us to make specific decisions and take specific actions that we believe will help us to minimize our regrets, recover the past, overcome our fears or create the future circumstances for our lives that we most favor.
These internal influences are even further distorted by the external influences of the world: the things we see every day on our television or we hear on the radio, or we read about – not to mention the onslaught of social media. All of these influences distort our perception of the reality of the world God has designed for us. But scripture is very clear on what we are to do about these external influences.
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Falling victim to these influences does not make us bad people, it makes us human. But as many of us can attest, the human condition is not always perfect. So, what are we to do to improve our prayer?
When we enter into prayer, the most effective way we can eliminate the impact of these influences is to simply abandon ourselves to God. And what is it that we are to abandon?—well, everything. We must let go of the regrets of the past, stop trying to recover what will never return, dispense with our fear and leave the future that we might favor entirely in the hands of God.
For many, this is a tall order. Those of us who have spent a few years in this world know what it is like to dwell on and try to correct something from the past or recover something we preferred in an earlier part of our life. The thought is usually expressed with words like, “I wish my life had turned out more like this…”
In addition, all of us, most especially when we are younger, have our concerns about the future and specific things we would like to see happen that we believe will ensure our happiness. This thought is usually expressed something this, “This is what I would like to see happen in my life and this is how I am going to make it happen…”
Regardless of our age, the great teachers of prayer all counsel the same thing in these matters. We need to learn to abandon our past, our present and our future and cast them into the hands of the Lord.
“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)
This image of casting our cares onto the Lord is one we should all consider as we enter into prayer. If we can silence the voices of our memories and have them lifted off our hearts and minds, then the Lord can speak to us. And we will find the equanimity we need to both abandon the past, the present and the future and place all of it into the Lord’s hands. And as a result, we will no longer direct our lives by the internal influences of our memory or the external influences of the world. Instead, we will be able to sing,
And what we will hear in that music is the Lord speaking these words directly to our heart.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Let us pray that we might all be able to listen and hear the music the Lord wants to create for each of us in our lives.
Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis