In his essay collection, Secrets in the Dark, Frederick Buechner writes about a dream so vivid that it woke him from his sleep. In the dream, he stays in a hotel room that he comes to love. It’s a small space but one in which he feels deep peace. He describes it as a place of healing and light. After a time, he leaves the room in order to do some traveling but later returns to the hotel in hopes of being given the same space. To his dismay, he’s assigned a room that feels dark and cramped. When he goes to the front desk to ask if he can have his old room back, the concierge tells him “yes” – but only if he asks for it by name. When Buechner asks for the name of the room, the concierge tells him that the room is called “Remember.”
The essay unsettled me because I don’t remember easily. And there are some things I’d prefer to forget. I don’t want to remember walking into the Genocide memorial in Kigali and being surrounded by stacks of human bones. I don’t want to remember the accounts of child abuse that I heard as a court advocate in DC. I don’t want to remember the hurtful words that have been spoken to me or at me or about me.
We’ve all experienced painful things we’d prefer to forget.
But what Buechner pushes us to see is that remembrance is a key to healing. It was in the room called “Remember” that Buechner experienced grace and light.
If we want to be healed, we have to remember, and remember in a particular way: by inviting God into the remembering process. It’s what I like to call “prayerful remembering.”
When we invite God into our remembering, we make space for Him to alter our perception of individual memories and, in doing so, heal our emotions. I believe prayerful remembering can transform our past.
Let me explain. I was in the car a couple of weeks ago when the Holy Spirit brought to mind a painful memory involving broken glass. Though the details were foggy, the emotions associated with the event – feelings of shame, hurt and fear – rushed to the surface. At first, I didn’t want to remember. And then I cried.
But when my tears cleared, I had the courage to ask God a question. I wanted to know why He had let it happen, what He had been doing.
So I asked Him. I said, “Where were you, God?”
And after a little while, in the silence of my car, I heard Him say: “I was picking up the pieces.”
I was picking up the pieces.
He didn’t tell me why He let it happen but He told me where He was. And somehow that answer, while not complete, diffused the pain.
It’s not that the memory was erased but how I perceived the event changed. In this amazing, supernatural way, God challenged and transformed the narrative of my memory from “I was alone and abandoned” to “God was next to me the whole time.”
He took what was a wound and turned it into a callous – soft, smooth, and no longer sensitive.
Of course, God doesn’t always work this way. He doesn’t always provide audible answers. But He is always present. And always loving. And He longs to heal us – not only our bodies, but our hearts and minds and memories.
However, we don’t always know what memories need to be “healed” or what God wants to show us. So I have an exercise I’d like to share – an opportunity for you to do a little prayerful remembering of your own. You never know what healing He may want to bring.
How To Prayerfully Remember
- Set aside 30 minutes, find a quiet spot and make sure to bring along pen and paper. At the beginning of your time, thank God for His presence with you and invite His Holy Spirit to speak.
- Select a period of time to review – the past day, week, month, or season (like “this winter” or “spring”).
- Make a list of some of the feelings or experiences you’ve had over the course of this time, paying particular attention to those situations or emotions that seem difficult, confusing or charged with emotion.
- Pick one – perhaps the one that seems most raw or you’re most resistant to – and begin to journal about the experience. As you write, ask honest questions like: “Where were you, God?” or “Why did you let this happen?” In particular, ask: “What do you want to say to me about this?” or “How are you inviting me to respond?”
- Listen (which means: wait, be quiet and expect God to respond.) Write down what comes to mind – remember, God often speaks through out thoughts and in unexpected ways. He might give you a scripture or an image, or suggest an action. Trust the Holy Spirit. Remember that God wants to speak to you. You might choose to sit in silence for a while, knowing that it was in “the sound of sheer silence” that the prophet Elijah heard God speak (1 Kings 19:11-13).
- Close your time with God by thanking Him for His wisdom.
I don’t know what God will say to you. But I do know that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). If we let the Spirit of the Lord in and give Him space and time to speak, He will guide us into greater freedom and healing.
If you do try this exercise, let me know! I love nothing more than hearing from others about how God speaks and what He says to them.
LISTEN |Holy Spirit, You are Welcome Here.