A few years ago I had a conversation about false memories with a couple of young mom friends. They had been fretting over the fact that neither one of them were the type of mom to sit on the floor and play with their kids for hours. Being the older, wiser mom of the bunch (my youngest child was in high school at the time), I bestowed upon them this brilliant, sage advice.
“First of all, I don’t think there are very many moms, if any, who actually sit on the floor and play with their kids for hours. That’s just a bunch of hooey, if you ask me. And secondly, you need to learn the art of creating false memories for your children.”
I went on to explain what I meant about “false memories”. In conversations with your kids, maybe over lunch or in the car, say to them, “Remember when we used to play Legos for hours?” To which they will, at first, say no, they don’t remember that. But if you bring it up enough times, they will actually create a “memory” of sitting on the floor, playing Legos and all the incredible creations you made together.
Brilliant, right? (Although there are no publishers knocking down my door, begging me to write a parenting book.) It was said as a joke, but I wonder how much truth there is to the notion of “false memories”.
My friend and I got in trouble for something that I remember as being her fault. My sister was mean to me, even though I don’t remember being a brat to her. I don’t remember saying hurtful things to my husband. I don’t remember being a snotty kid to my parents. I don’t remember screaming at my kids. I remember being a good friend, a kind sister, a loving wife, a sweet daughter, a doting mother.
How many of my judgments against people have come because I don’t remember when I acted the same way? How much of my hypocrisy is because I don’t remember that I do the same thing?
I choose not to remember. It makes me like me better. It makes me seem like a better person than I really am. It makes me look like a happy, shiny, nearly perfect Christian.
But when I humble myself and remember, I recall thoughts I should never have entertained, words I should never have said, things I should never have done. And I see my wretchedness in all its glory. The wretchedness that Jesus died for.
So I ask God to search me – search my thoughts, search my heart – and reveal to me what I choose to ignore. You can’t change a behavior if you don’t remember it in the first place.
When I do remember my past transgressions I feel shame, to be sure. But I also feel empathy and understanding and compassion for those I’ve been judging, the ones I’ve been judging for being just like me.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ~ Psalm 139:23-24