November is the month for remembering.
The christian calendar kicks it off with All Saints day on 1st November when we remember the heroes of faith who have gone before us. The 2nd November is then All Souls day – a day similar to the Mexican festival of el Dia de los Muertos (the day of the dead) – when we remember loved ones who have passed away. We ‘remember, remember the 5th of November’ as we light bonfires and ‘ooh and aah’ at impressive firework displays that mark the failure of the infamous gunpowder plot of 1605. And we wear poppies and hold silence on the 11th ‘lest we forget’ the tragic loss of life as we remember the solemn events of the World Wars.
Remembering is important…. but memory can be a tricky business!
Without getting too technical, we have 2 types of memory – explicit and implicit memory. Explicit memory is our memory of specific events whereas our implicit memory is our memory of how we perceived those specific events – our emotions and body sensations. For a memory to be stored well, we need our brain to piece together the different pieces of memory – to bring together the explicit and the implicit memories and integrate them together … and the part of our brain responsible for that memory integration is called the hippocampus.
In his book ‘The whole brain child’, Dr Dan Siegal explains that a great way to help children to integrate memory well is to help them tell their story – to revisit and draw attention to noteworthy moments – the positive as well as the more challenging – the special family experiences, the times when we felt fearful, the important friendships – to make the implicit explicit. As we talk about events and reflect on our stories – naming feelings, noticing bodily sensations, describing our perceptions – we draw together the fragmented pieces and form integrated memories.
As an example, when I was very young I had to have some teeth out at the dentist to help prevent overcrowding. Because of my age, I was given gas as an anaesthetic which resulted in me leaving the dentist feeling very dizzy and nauseous. As a child, the memory I had was very fragmented and simply linked dentist with feeling very sick. As a result, for many years, just hearing other people talk about going for a dentist appointment caused a physical response in me that made my stomach churn and caused me to feel nauseous. It was only when I told my story as an adult that I was able to reflect on the event and integrate the implicit and the explicit as I pieced together the fact that the procedure was to help me and that it was the gas that caused me to feel sick.
In Dan Siegal’s book it goes on to say that ‘(giving) kids a chance to tell their stories … aids them in the meaning making process that improves their ability to understand their past and present experiences’ (p84). And that’s not just true for children – numerous studies have shown that remembering and telling your story through journaling can reduce anxiety, boost immune function, improve memory function and cultivate gratitude.
And as with all the good advice on wellbeing, it was God’s advice first! Deuteronomy 6 is a beautiful passage all about remembering.
In v1-9 God’s people are encouraged to remember His wise instructions by talking about them in their homes with their families or as they walk along the road – to write them in their houses and to tie them to their bodies.
In v10-12 it talks about planning how they’ll remember in the future – being sure of the goodness of God that is to come, think about how you’ll remember where your blessings come from when they arise!
The chapter ends with an encouragement to remember their story – to notice and remember God’s faithfulness in it and to tell it to their children!
I love the sensory, tangible, demonstrative ways that the Israelites are encouraged to remember – writing it on their door posts, tying it to their wrists. Remembering isn’t just a cerebral activity – it’s a whole body, sensory, active thing to do!
When Jesus tells His disciples to remember Him, He gives them an active way of doing that – sharing bread and wine. By taking bread and wine he not only gives them a hands on way of remembering Him, of remembering His story and of remembering how His story is woven through their story, He also places it into a rhythm in time – ‘do this as often as you drink it’.
So – as we step into a month of remembering – what does remembering look like in your household? How can we be more creative and hands on with our remembering? Are there rhythms and routines we can build into our day and our week that set aside time for remembering?
For those with children, is there space to listen and to hear the stories our children are telling us? Is there opportunity for them to process all that is happening to them each day? Space to make the implicit explicit?
Are we noticing where God is at work in our lives? How do we remember that? Quite often in the bible when someone had heard from God they would set up a stone as a physical reminder of the moment every time they passed it. Most of us would probably not find setting up huge stones a very practical response – but what might your metaphorical ‘stones’ be – it might be as simple as writing the story in a journal.
In our families, are we sharing the story of God with each other?
Remembering and telling our story is a great way to help us notice the Wonder of God in our lives. I’ve created a couple of free resources to help you get started with this – you’ll find them both on the living well website in the resources section:
The How, Wow and a Bow resource is a great conversation starter for family mealtimes as you share in the story of each others days and notice the Wonder!
The 360 Thankfulness tool is a great reflective tool as you journal and helps you bring an attitude of gratitude!
‘I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.’