The World as Best as I Can Remember it
Truth isn't relative but sometimes the way we remember it is
One of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on your view) of having moved across the country so many times, is whenever we want to visit another one of those places and we don’t want to fly, the drive is long. I have traveled north to south, east to west, and back again untold times. I know my favorite routes, but sometimes I change it up to see middle America or an art installation in the middle of nowhere Texas or to cross the bridge into Cincinnati from the south, because it’s just prettier that way.
Before I was married, these cross-country roadtrips were accompanied by the sound of Rich Mullins. Always Rich Mullins. In my doubt, Rich. In my faith, Rich. In my joy, Rich. In my soul, Rich. Since the age of 16 he has been the minstrel for my journeys. In one of his tunes, Jacob and Two Women, Rich takes poetic license (as all artists do) with the story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. The refrain is, “This is the world as best as I can remember it.”
It chokes me up a bit to hear that song these days because I never really understood it before recent years. It’s not just a retelling of a biblical narrative. It’s a reminder of how traumatic those events must have been for everyone involved. Go read it now and think about it in light of what we know about trauma, abuse, healing, disappointment, and pain. If you can, place yourself in any one of their shoes: Jacob, the swindled. Leah, the ugly. Rachel, the barren.
When we experience brokenness in our lives, because we are thinking, feeling, and ordering beings, we reorient stories so they don’t hurt us as bad. We tell a better story because we’re not ready to deal with the pain of the reality. Or we tell a worse story because the pain is too compounded in us to see a situation as it truly is. We’re all telling the story as best as we can remember it, imperfectly and true, but also true to who we are.
Jesus wants to heal all these stories, but he hasn’t yet, not fully (and anyone who doesn’t admit to carrying the fragments of their own broken story along with them is lying—don’t believe them). We’re still reading the future through the past and reading the past through the past and reorganizing today through the past we remember and the future we envision. None of us are getting that right, not entirely.
. . .
After Nate and I married, and he committed the cardinal sin of making fun of one of Rich’s songs (Don’t worry, we’ve made up.), we switched to audio books on our cross-country treks. In those books, we’ve traveled to other worlds, planets, post-apocalyptic America, and WWII prisons.
One book in particular was one we had to listen to in fits and starts. It begins with a traumatic story almost identical to a story from my own upbringing, and then the book is littered with dozens more similarities. I have never felt so described as I did reading her account. She didn’t have a birth certificate, I didn’t have a social security number. She had welts from the belt, so did I. She arrived at college with no knowledge of the Holocaust, I arrived with no knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement. Her father was paranoid about the government and preparing for the end of the world, instilling fear in her about it, and so was mine.
One of my favorite things about the book, though, is how often she caveated to her readers that her story was told as best as she could remember it. The implication was, "This might not be exactly as it happened, but it's as exact to my memory as I can write it.”
I’ve thought about that for years now because one of my brothers insists that we did learn about the Civil Rights movement, and three of my brothers have no memory of not having a social security number, and half of my brothers never got chased around the house with a wooden spoon or belt. They, very literally, grew up in a different house and different family from me. Their childhood traumas were different than mine, caught between embittered parents in a custody war and more stories not mine to tell. But we’re all remembering the world as best as we can remember it.
We all remember the story as it imprinted on our brain, on top of all the other stories we lived up until that point, and then filtered through every story we will live for the rest of our lives.
What I mean is that something can be true and we can not remember it.
Something can also be not true and yet we remember it explicitly.
And some things are true and we remember them truly but someone else tries to convince us they’re not true and we’re not being truthful.
Truth is a complicated thing. Some people would like to say there is only one truth, but what they mean is that what they believe is true is the one truth and heaven help anyone who disagrees.
I do not believe that truth is relative and I do believe there is actually only one real truth, and I also believe that apart from Jesus Christ being the way, truth, and life, all of the other things we remember are held in dimly lit glasses.
. . .
A few weeks ago I was wrestling with an aspect of coming home for me which is that who I was when I left here twelve years ago is mightily different than who I am today. I was weak, insecure, fearful, timid, boundary-less, and more back them. I am still all of those things, but with one Main Thing different: I see the world through a redemptive lens. And so when others here try to hold a mirror up to my face and say, “This is who you are. Look at it. Look at how bad you are,” I know, to the core of who I am, that that is not who I am. That is who they would like me to be. That is who they remember me to be. That is who they project me to be. That is who it benefits them for me to be. But, by God’s grace, some years of therapy, some emotional growth, healing, and spiritual formation, that is not who I am. Not anymore.
Memory is a strange thing and people far wiser and more learned than me have done much more work on it than I. But these days I am reminded often that we heal our memories by being honest about them as we remember them and not as we wish we remembered them or as someone else remembers them. That’s an uncomfortable feeling, trust me, I know—especially when our own selves or others critique us for not getting it right as it seems to them or us. But I also know it’s the only way to heal.
God does not heal our false selves. It would be like holding out a perfectly good arm and asking him to heal it while holding a compound fracture behind our back. It doesn’t do any good to pretend we are what we wish we were, or what others wish we were, or what we might someday be again. I can only pull that fractured memory from behind my back and ask him to hold and heal any and all harm done against me. Even the harm I’ve done against myself.
I have to offer him the world as best as I can remember it and not as best as I wish it was.
I was able to share a bit about cultivating a curious faith on the Holy Post podcast which aired this week. Click below for my conversation with Kaitlyn Schiess.
Have you ordered my newest book? A Curious Faith: The Questions God Asks, We Ask, and Wish Someone Would Ask Us. Also available: Handle With Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry