The Memory of a Goldfish

July 20, 2021 | Megan Schemenauer

At times, I joke around that I have the memory of a goldfish. Keys, sunglasses, cell phone all items I’ve misplaced at one time or another, along with a slew of others. (Don’t ask me about the time I went to Jersey but my purse ended up in Philadelphia.)

But memory is a funny thing. While I may not be able to remember what I ate for dinner last night or what time my dentist appointment is on Thursday, occasionally at the most unexpected moments, a memory will pop up in my mind. 

Maybe you’ve experienced this phenomenon too. I’m not talking about the happy kind of memories, like remembering an old favorite song, a funny conversation with a friend, or the smell of your grandmother’s cookies. I’m talking about those memories that feel like a punch to the gut or a wrench in the heart. A subtle dig, a sharp reminder of past times I’ve messed up, sinned, or otherwise made a major mistake that let God or others or myself down.

Almost instantly accompanying this kind of negative memory is a shift in emotion. Grief, guilt, regret. Like an anchor or an albatross around the neck, our past can mentally and emotionally weigh us down and discourage us from living the life God has called us to in the here and now. 

Where do these sudden negative thoughts and memories come from? Believe it or not, our memories can be one of the many ways in which the devil attacks us. Perhaps this mental struggle is the reason Paul states to the church in Philippians 3, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). 

The past and the present cannot coexist in our minds. We are either living in one or the other. And focusing too much on the past interferes with my ability to serve God in the present.

God has not called us to live in the past. In fact, Jesus Christ came to save us from our past. His death on the cross took the penalty for every slip, mistake, or bad decision on my part from my birth until death. Colossians 1:21-22 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

Me?? Holy? Without blemish? Free? With Christ’s forgiveness, yes!

Once forgiven, these ancient sins of mine are the last thing on God’s mind. Psalm 103:12 tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” It has never been God’s intent that we dwell on the past or allow our past to distract us from our present or future. 

So why do I let it? To put it simply, because I am human. 

So how do I combat this mental pull backward? When those old memories resurface and threaten to drag me under with them, I use another piece of advice from the apostle Paul: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, KJV). When I give every thought to Christ, He protects me from beating myself up over and over again for the sins He’s already bled and died for.

But it’s more than just removing negative thoughts; we then have to fill our minds with something better than dwelling on our past. Paul also instructs us in how we should focus our thoughts: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

What’s been going on in your mind? How are you doing at letting go of your past mistakes?

Maybe having the memory of a goldfish is actually a blessing. After all, once God’s forgiven our sins, doesn’t He do the same thing? Forgiven. Forgotten. 

Just like a goldfish.