I hate the oncology office. It smells like chemotherapy and pain.
I’m currently waiting in the lobby of Texas Oncology, breathing through my mouth, so that I don’t smell the odor of illness. Okay, I’m not certain what illness smells like. Most likely I’m smelling a combination of hospital cleaners, hand sanitizers and latex gloves. Regardless, my mind associates the smell with all the crap that cancer brought. I’m taken back to chemo, nausea, muscle pain, soreness and radiation burns. I hate this smell. On rare occasion I’ll get a sniff of it while in the foyer of my apartment complex, or in the grocery store and immediately must move away from it. But right now, as I wait for the nurse to call me back, I must sit in it and flash back to the worst of the past year. I hate remembering.
Flashbacks are fickle.
These very same images that I hate to recall in the doctor’s office, are the very same images that come to mind during worship. I stretch my hands to the Father, close my eyes and meditate on the “red devil” coursing through my veins, and the days after where I lay in pain on the couch. I recall to memory sickle cell crisis’ in the hospital and crying from the mind numbing pain in the emergency room. I recall the smell again, and I smile, because I’m reminded of the healing that God has brought. I need to remember the bad that occurred in my life, so that I’m consistently aware of the good that is happening. I love remembering.
Where is the healthy balance between remembering and forgetting? How do we balance no longer living in the past and rejoicing in the present, while not forgetting just what the Lord has done?
And then I remembered our friends, the Israelites, and this particular scripture:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” -Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)
Now, I’ve heard this scripture before, understanding it as a call to put my past out of memory. I grew up thinking that there was something “healthy” about forgetting. We are told as children to forgive and FORGET. But as I wrestle with the memories of my cancer battle, I question this. So I look at this scripture a little closer and as I read it now, I’m noticing two important things. The first thing I noticed is the verses above this passage:
“This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:” -Isaiah 43:16-17 (NIV)
In the preface to telling us to forget the former things, the writer reminds us, pulls to memory, what the Lord has done in the past! The writer is saying, “Look, the dude who parted the red sea, who drew you out of the hands of your enemy- that guy has something to say.” He is defining God by what He has done for him in Israel’s past! This requires us to go back, and recall all of the mess we were in AND HOW the Lord delivered us from it. We look back to remember this, that we may remind ourselves of just who God is.
The second thing I noticed is the word “dwell” in vs 18. Remembering the past and dwelling in the past are two different things entirely. It’s not the casual glancing back that is dangerous, but the complete 180 turns we make to stare and meditate on our past. This is dwelling. The longer you stare in a direction, the more likely you are to walk in that direction. We move in the direction in which our feet and body are postured; surly if I’m facing towards an exit, I will walk in the direction of the exit. Surly if you position yourself to fixate on your past you will move toward it.
So, I encourage you to not turn around and dwell on your past. There is nothing in the past that is worth the repositioning of your body, and the slow backwards journey you will embark on. Your future, and the brightness and fullness thereof, is in front of you! Glance back. Occasionally turn only your head, ever so slightly over your shoulder that you may be reminded of the incredible road you have challenged. Do this only that you may remember what the Lord has done, and that it will propel you deeper into praise, worship and service. This is important, as Moses warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:12 of forgetting, saying,
“Then take care lest you forget the Lord,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery.” (ESV)
I’ve often wondered if this is why the Israelites complained so much, and had such little faith during their journey. Time and time again, the Lord showed His mighty hand, providing for them in miraculous ways! The Lord parted the Red Sea, allowing them to escape from slavery and the wrath of Pharaoh (Exodus 14); He rained down manna from heaven that they may eat (Exodus 16); He provided water for the Israelites to drink, from a rock in the desert (Exodus 17)! And yet every time they approached a trial, complaining and unbelief overcame them. Maybe they didn’t glance back. Maybe they allowed themselves to forget the previous wonders and miracles that the Lord had done. Maybe they no longer remembered the pain of slavery and their prayers for freedom.
I don’t want to forget. i wont forget. I shall not. I’ll be sure to glance back to the past on occasion while resisting the fleshly urge to dwell on in.