I tried to access a certain account the other day on the internet. I couldn’t because I evidently forgot my password. I didn’t think I had forgotten it, but I guess I forgot that I had forgotten it. I have forgotten appointments, forgotten something I was supposed to do on a certain day, forgotten something that had popped into my mind about what had to be done right away—it popped back out of my mind too quickly. I have nutritional supplements that are supposed to help with brain function and memory, but sometimes I forget to take them. I write reminders on a pocket note pad, on little post-it notes, and even on my hand, but sometimes I still forget.
Why all this talk about forgetfulness? ….oh, yes! I almost forgot—it’s because it has an application to the spiritual life. We may not be forgetful about our daily responsibilities, but many seem to be quite forgetful about spiritual matters and what the Lord has been trying to teach us all these years.
It seems to me that most of the sins of people who are actually trying to be good Christians don’t stem from raw malice or premeditated evil. More often than not they are the fruit of a kind of spiritual forgetfulness, an inattention or lack of vigilance, or perhaps a rather thoughtless self-centeredness. I wrote a few months ago (based on Psalm 136/137) that to sin is to forget that Heaven is the source of our joy. Remember?
In the parable of the sower of seeds, Jesus speaks about those from whom the devil snatches the word of God before it can take root. This can be understood as an image of spiritual forgetfulness. If the seed doesn’t find rich, moist, fertile soil in which to quickly sink and germinate, it lies exposed on the hard ground where it is easy prey for anything that comes by. Likewise, when we hear the word of God and don’t provide a place in our souls wherein it can help deepen our spiritual understanding, other concerns will seem more compelling (or interesting) and we end up forgetting what we heard, and it does us no good. It is as if the devil has come by and snatched it out of our consciousness.
Sometimes, in our prayer or meditation, we do actually open ourselves to receive the word of the Lord and gain some precious insight or awareness. Then, at a later time, some opportunity arises in which that insight has some practical application, but we act in our ordinary, unenlightened way. Why? We forgot what we had learned in the quiet moments of prayer. I must confess that such things happen to me more often than I care to admit (though I just did).
St James says that we must become “doers of the word.” Certainly we have to begin by hearing the word, but that is not enough. He says: “If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his face in a mirror… and goes away and at once forgets what he looked like” (1:22-24). So how do we remember not to forget? If I had the answer to that one, I’d be much farther along the path to sanctity. But it seems to me that the answer must somehow lie in creating good habits of “doing the word.” It’s easier to remember to do things that we do habitually. We ordinarily don’t forget to get dressed before we go out somewhere, nor do we forget the way to a place we go to every day. Perhaps this is at least partly because if we didn’t we’d soon be forced to realize that something has gone terribly wrong. But our spiritual senses may not be as alert as our bodily ones. We may go on for way too long before we realize that we’re overdue for confession, or that we’ve been missing our daily prayers, or that we’re supposed to be fasting during Lent, or whatever.
We have to start training ourselves and forming good, healthy, holy habits, so that we won’t forget that human life is supposed to be about loving and serving the Lord wholeheartedly. Pray that you will retain whatever the Lord gives you in your meditation or spiritual reading, and that you learn the lessons that He teaches through the events of your life.
We cannot afford to forget, for life is demanding, the stakes are high, and judgment cannot be forestalled forever. Where our treasure is, there will our hearts (and minds) be. If it’s really important to us, chances are we’ll remember. Just don’t forget to pray for that enlightenment by which we will be able to see things clearly, in their proper relations and priorities, so that God’s will is always primary. “I will never forget your precepts, for with them You give me life” (Ps. 118/119:93).