I’m currently reading a memoir by a woman named Jill Price, who has an unusual condition called hyperthymestic syndrome. Which is the technical way of saying she can’t forget. Anything. If you asked her about any given day in 1970, she’d be able to tell you what day of the week it was—and precisely what she had for breakfast.
As much as I want to pull out my hair when I leave my lunch on the kitchen counter or when I completely whiff on someone’s birthday, I realize there is grace in being able to forget. On a merely practical level, it’s a mercy that some of those details (like decades-old breakfast menus) can exit quietly and unceremoniously out the mental back door. Otherwise our brains would be so cluttered with nonessentials that we’d never be able to stay focused on weightier matters.
On a spiritual level, I think God works in a similar way. He takes those wounds and painful memories from times we’ve been hurt and, through the process of time, his Spirit, and godly people in our lives, enables those painful incidents to fade into the background.
Joseph, the Old Testament hero, had plenty of wounds that hounded his memory. His own brothers had sold him into slavery, and he ended up a captive in a faraway country, where he was falsely accused and thrown into prison. There should have been plenty of bitter juice to go around. But it’s interesting to note what he named his firstborn son once his life started looking up again: Manasseh, which means “God has made me forget all my troubles and everyone in my father’s family” (Genesis 41:51).
I have to wonder, though: if Joseph had truly moved on, would he really need to name his son “I have forgotten”? In a sense, every time he called to his son was a reminder of the family he’d allegedly left in the rearview mirror.
So what do we do when we can’t forget?
In those cases, it just may be that God has something redemptive up his sleeve. God wasn’t finished with Joseph when it came to those brothers he claimed to have forgotten. When he met up with them years later, there were no vengeful daytime talk show moments. Instead, there was a teary, grace-filled reunion—and a reconciliation that was more beautiful than amnesia ever could be.
If there is a wound in your life right now that is burned into your consciousness, go ahead and ask God for the grace of forgetfulness. But if it’s slow in coming, don’t get discouraged. Because it just may be that God is going to so bring something out of this you’ll never want to forget.
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.