Living Life With a Five Minute Memory
As I’ve grown older, I’ve recognized a tendency in myself when it comes to my identity: I have a very short-term memory. Over the years, I’ve begrudgingly accepted my mental and spiritual near-sightedness, but I recently had a revelation inspired by one of my favorite movies which I wanted to share.
Raise your hand if you’ve seen Memento. Ok, you there in the back, really? Go watch it. I’ll wait. Seriously though, creative silver-screen storytelling aside, I realized that if I’m going to be successful as a husband, father, leader, witness to the Gospel, or any other pursuit in life, I’m going to need to start looking like this guy:
Those of you who haven’t yet seen the film are probably scratching your heads a bit now wondering why looking like Guy Pearce with a bunch of tattoos is somehow going to make me a better father. (My wife, when reading the draft of this article said only, “Please don’t look like him.” – not sure I blame her.) Allow me to catch you up, and fair warning:
Memento is a story of a man seeking vengeance for his murdered wife, told in reverse. Each scene is edited in such a way that we experience the movie the same way as our tattooed friend. What we quickly find out is that the protagonist Leonard suffers from anterograde amnesia, unable to form new memories since the moment of the attack which triggered amnesia. In order to cope, he creates a system by which he constantly reminds himself of his purpose in life: to track down his wife’s killer. By meticulously tattooing onto his body the details his Etch-a-Sketch memory won’t allow him to retain, he manages against all odds to give his life meaning.
I have often felt like I have spiritual anterograde amnesia — like a man seeing himself in the mirror of God’s truth about his identity, and then 5 minutes later returning to familiar thought patterns and habits. (James 1:24 anyone?) Intellectually, my theory is that the portion of our brains that process the revelation we receive from God and the portion that forms memories and thought patterns are like casual friends – maybe a coffee now and again, but you wouldn’t call them close. We need help taking the truth that He gives us and living it out on a daily basis. We need regular wake-up calls that remind us again of our calling and our destiny. We are the Leonard’s of our own story, and while actually inking our calling into skin might be a tad on the extreme side, I think God knew what He was doing when He told the Israelites to tie His words to their hands and foreheads. (Deut 11:18) In order to commit themselves fully to the commands He gave, He knew they would need constant spurring to keep the vision before their eyes.
Taking the Memento analogy a bit further, there are ways we can practically apply some tattoos to our own lives:
Nice sleeves man
Who we are in the public arena – at church, work, school – is often necessarily different than who we are with those closest to us. We have a different calling to the world, to the public, than we do to our spouses or kids. If you haven’t yet caught a vision for your life, that would be step 1, and beyond the scope of this post. However, if you already have a good idea of who you’re called to be, how God wants to use you in the world, then write it down! Put it in Evernote, on a Post-It note, on a C-note. Anywhere that you’re going to see it regularly. Do anything you can to put before your eyes who it is that God created you to be on a regular basis. Gather any prophetic words you’ve received and put them somewhere you can look at daily or weekly. We should also entrust some close friends or a mentor with our vision and ask them to hold us accountable to it. Bonus points if they are people who you work with or interact with daily. Give them permission to remind you when you’ve forgotten who you are.
You got a tattoo where???
There are parts of me that only my wife will ever see (no, not those parts – mind up here buddy) and I need some tattoos there too. Every time Leonard took off his shirt, he got a surprise reminder of his mission. At home, when the kids are cranky, or my wife is sick, or the air conditioner goes out in the middle of the summer, I need reminders of who I’m called to be to my family. My family needs a patient, kind leader, and if my natural predisposition is not those things, I’ll take all the help I can get.
God called the Israelites to build monuments commemorating the great works He did among them, to be used as a talking point for generations, bringing remembrance of God’s faithfulness. We can apply this on a micro-scale too – not just monuments to what God did, but also what He said or maybe where He said it. My wife and I have recently experienced some serious God-moments in our lives that are big enough to warrant a monument. We are planning to purchase a nice piece of art – something we’ve never done before – and put it in our house to remind us of the amazing things God has done recently. But it doesn’t have to be something grandiose. Your tattoo could even be a rock! Several years ago while visiting Israel on a trip with Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, God began to speak to me about my identity. Personally, I’m working on a “first-things first” file that will be a living document I review first thing in the morning. In it is my personal mission statement – a short reminder of who God has called me to be and how that applies to my life in my current season. After that is the big rocks that I’m tackling in different areas of responsibility. And finally anything I need to remember to bring to the Lord in prayer regularly.The ins and outs are a long story, but suffice to say, the process that he started taking me on during that trip were significant. While we were visiting the sea of Galilee, I felt like I was supposed to find a unique looking rock from the sea as a memento (ba dum cha). Today, as that stone sits on my dresser, every time I look at it I can immediately get the sense of how far I’ve come since plucking it from the Galilee so many years ago. It reminds me daily of who I am, and how I need to see myself because of what God was speaking to me at the time.
Visual reminders are the best, but as any former smoker unfortunately knows, there is another very powerful tool at our disposal: Cues. Just as a smoker gets the urge to light up any time they get into a vehicle, we can train our minds to associate certain events with certain activities. Recently I’ve made a decided effort to make the simple act of driving home a cue. Every time I get in the car to head home from wherever I’m at, I try to use it as a reminder to put myself in the right frame of mind when I arrive. I’ll begin to pray for my wife and kids, not necessarily for any specific thing, but just a sort of blessing prayer. When I do so, it instantly turns my heart towards them and by the time I walk in the door I’m able to bring my A-game. No poopy diapers or toddler tantrums can turn off my happy when I’ve intentionally walked through the door with my dad hat on, ready to be who I need to be at home.