Articles

Don’t trust your memory

Don’t trust your memory
Human memory
Stephen Rees
Stephen Rees Stephen Rees is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Stockport. He travels widely as a preacher and conference speaker.
18 February, 2020 14 min read

We moved from North Wales when I was seven years old. But my memories of life there are very vivid. Plodding to school through the snow during the winter of 1963. Climbing the oak tree in the fields behind our home. Playing the third king (‘myrrh I bring’) in a nativity play and refusing, terror-struck, to go on stage. Being chased by a herd of pigs while exploring with my sister. Roller-skating down the corridors of Bodelwyddan Castle.

Can I trust my memory?

How reliable are my memories? Yes, we went to a local evangelical church. But did it really meet in the local library? And was there a picture along one wall of a stream running over rocks? No. I’m assured that the meetings were held in a church building. But I can see the library now. I can see the red tubular steel chairs and the piano in the corner. I can see the water splashing over the stones. Somewhere along the way, my memory of church has become entangled with other memories.

On some things, my memory is astonishingly exact. I’ve just gone to Google Street View to see the house where we lived. And yes, it’s exactly as I remember it. There’s the wall on which I sat on a hot summer’s day, crying because I had been banished from the meal table. I can remember the texture of the stone slabs that topped the wall. But I can’t remember what my crime was that had led to my banishment. Perhaps I had carelessly knocked over a visitor’s cup of tea? There’s a dim recollection of some such episode. But if so, I’ve no idea who the visitor might have been. I do remember that there were buttered derby scones that day – my favourite. Hence the tears when I was sent away.

Jesus promised his apostles that ‘the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you…’ (John 14:26).

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