Sometimes I have a terrible memory.
Does this ever happen to you?
I’ll meet someone new, and a few minutes later, I’ve completely forgotten their name. I go to say something conversational and then suddenly, I realize it’s gone, baby, gone. And I literally knew it a minute ago. But now, my mind is blank. And I’m praying to the dear Lord above that I will recall it.
But, I don’t.
So, one day I decided that in order to assist myself in memory retention, and attempt save myself from certain embarrassment, I would focus on the new person’s most distinct physical feature while I pair it with their name. I pick something like their gripping eyes, a cool ‘stache, or their lustrous hair. Playing this little game has made it easier for me to recall the person’s name if I bump into them again.
Why does this little trick help?
Our vision is our most powerful sense.
Every waking second, we rely on our eyes to send us visual cues about our environment and the context of the situations we’re in. Our brains then encode and store this information in our memories, enhancing our ability to remember the details of what we have experienced in these moments. This effect is even more intense if we have an emotional response to the situation.
Our vision is so powerful, that it can even overtake our other sensory systems, like the sounds we hear, for example. In the world of psychology, when our vision overtakes our auditory perceptions we call this phenomenon “visual capture”.
Think about the last time that you went to see a movie. You would swear the lines that the actors are speaking are coming straight out of their mouths, right?
The sound is coming from different speakers placed in various locations throughout the theater. Of course, practically speaking, you actually know this. But your vision takes over anyway, and you’re sucked into the false reality that you’re actually listening to dialogue coming from the screen in front of you. Because what we see is almost always what we believe.
Vision is connected to our memories of situations and things so tightly that it is woven into the strands of how we perceive reality or how well we recall our past. Seeing things that have meaning to us helps jog our memories. Primes our minds to recall people, places, or things with more clarity.
I must admit something.
Sometimes I don’t just forget names.
Sometimes I forget much bigger, more important things.
Like God’s goodness.
It can happen just like that. A certain date, a sideways glance from someone, holiday time, can suddenly send my memory into the depths of hibernation. And I can’t see.
Sometimes the fog and the mist on my path gets so thick that I forget that there is a light guiding my way.
Sometimes the drudgery of the daily grind supersedes my ability to remember what God has already done.
Sometimes the wilderness looks scary and I forget that I am being led by a holy God who is bringing me to glory.
Sometimes the waves get so big that I find myself being rolled beneath water that threatens to steal the fullness of the breath and life I have been given.
I can look back and clearly see that sometimes my questions directed toward God about what he’s been doing in my life have looked more like demands. Janet Jackson style. What have you done for me lately?
Sometimes I forget.
The rescues. The blessings. The promises.
Because I can’t see.
Because I choose not to see.
Just like the Israelites wandering in the sand, when we look at the confusion or barrenness of our own desert, it feels foreign and unfamiliar and scary. We grumble.
Why did you bring me here?
We start complaining about what seems pretty reasonable. We’re thirsty. And then God reaches down and turns the bitter waters into something sweet that we can drink. We clearly see the water with our own eyes, lifting the cup to our lips.
And like a people led by Moses, we have had just enough to reach pools of mercy that quench our deepest need. And we sit in the shade of the trees, drinking in God’s provision and goodness. And we are content.
And then, with the sunrise, we are on the move again. And somehow we forget the beauty of the trees that gave us shelter and the water that soothed our parched souls. We were not intentional with our gratitude. We did not fully capture the miracle with our eyes. The sun is so bright that we put on our Ray Bans and we carry on and grumble and complain some more.
We are tired and hungry and our bodies are starving for food. Hunger begins to trump reason and we begin to believe that the food we ate while we were enslaved was better than manna. And all of a sudden, in our mind’s eye, we can clearly see the deliciousness of what we once feasted on.
We remember the meals with rosy retrospection, fooling ourselves into thinking that the food is so. very. good. But in reality, the viewfinder that we are looking through has discolored and scratched lenses, hiding the rot and spoil.
We can’t actually see, because we choose to be blind. Our memories become something they never were. Because we were not intentional with truly seeing with the eyes of our hearts.
We don’t appreciate the manna.
We don’t want the quail.
This looks worse than captivity.
We can’t get traction because our focus has shifted toward our feet in the sand instead of seeing the landscape with soulful eyes that intentionally study how to navigate new terrain. We look at the barrenness of where we are stuck instead of gazing toward the One who has brought us here.
The sand is in our eyes and God knows it.
So, He says,
Do not forget.
“See, I am doing a new thing.
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
When I give you glimpses of triumph and victory in the trenches.
Do not forget.
When you are weary and worn out and all you see is dust and sand and dirt.
Do not forget.
The God who fashioned our eyes also knows their fallibility. He knows that we need visible, tangible reminders of His promises. Especially in the wilderness. So He tells us to do a little DIY in the desert.
We have to cross the river.
It’s another obstacle, but God is saying, we’re going to make it to the promised land!
And once you enter, you must go to the mountain.
Go to the Rock. A place of strength and shelter.
Then, build an altar of stones.
Because we need to really see.
We set up altars so that we can remember. So that we are overwhelmed with His presence and not with the trouble that we’ve seen. Because these are stones of remembering. So that we can know the power of what He has done for us. Even in the wandering. Even in the sand. Because this is where God has done His most transformative work in us.
God created our visual sense and knows how intricate and sensitive and powerful it is. And He knows what will happen when we fix our eyes on Him.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” Ephesians 1:18
When we can truly see, when we choose to truly see with the eyes of our hearts, we can close our eyes and block out the noise that tries to tell us a different story.
And it is then that we know. We can see. We will remember.
He hears us.
He sees us.
He know us.
“Behold, I have written you on the palms of my hands, your walls are ever before me.”