This letter was written for the November edition of our church magazine, however I wrote it back on 2nd October, after which I promptly forgot what I had written.
Just over 3 weeks later, we received the devastating news that the treatment that my Dad has been getting for his cancer is not working and he has reached the end of the road as far as options for treatment are concerned. This did not really surprise me, however the fact that his specialist suggested that the time we have left with him could be as little as six months, was like a sucker punch. Following the news, I spent a weekend either crying or raging…raging against the world, medicine, but mostly against God. I felt angry with Him and I really struggled in church on Sunday morning, but then I picked up a magazine and read my own words back to myself, words that seemed almost a little prophetic given the circumstances, and my struggle lessened – it is OK to be angry with God.
November is a month that seems to be all gathered up into acts of remembrance – Armistice Day, All Souls and All Saints – all of which underline how death can also be the bearer of life, and that light is only truly appreciated when the darkness begins to cover us.
Memory is an interesting thing. Think back to some of your earliest memories. Some will be quite vivid, others will not. Memory is not always neat and logical, but it enables us to see beyond the immediate – the memory of a good holiday might cheer us up on a particularly grey and overcast day; memories of friends and loved ones enable us to continue and develop our relationships when we see them again.
As I got to thinking about memory I was reminded of Paul’s letter to the Philippians which is written at a particular dark and difficult moment in his life; he is imprisoned and expecting execution. Yet he describes his state of mind as one of thankfulness, joy and confidence. This is not because of his immediate circumstances, but his capacity to remember. He remembers the care and affection of his friends in Philippi; he remembers the things God has been doing in and through them; he remembers their common purpose of sharing the Gospel; and he remembers that God will be with him no matter what.
Sometimes we prefer not to remember as it is too painful, but memory is a gift to us, it is that part of a loved one or friend that can never be taken from us, our memories of them are safe and can be drawn on as part of the healing process.
As Paul sat, a condemned man he had more than just his memories to sustain him; he had his God. And while his friends could only be with him through the power of memory and recollection, God was sufficiently present for Paul to be able to give thanks to Him, there and then. As he thought of the future and recognised the likelihood of execution, he might easily have argued that he had little to thank God for. But as he trawled through the recesses of his mind, they were full of memories and experiences that gave him great cause to be thankful.
Coming together during this month to remember, and doing so in the presence of God, is a powerful opportunity. For some of us, the pain of loss and parting might be so great that we struggle to believe that we have anything to thank God for. But God has given us the capacity to remember, and He invites us to use those memories to discover that even in our present struggles and pain we can find cause to be thankful. And as we express our thanks to Him, so we begin to discover His presence, giving us the strength and healing that we need.
Remembering can be painful, traumatic, sometimes even tinged with guilt at our own shortcomings. Remembering is not easy, that’s why, perhaps, for generations people have come together in acts of remembrance, supporting and helping one another in the struggle and need. Let us use the memories of the past to find God in the present. Let’s not be afraid to shed the odd tear, or even express our anger and despair to God – he does not demand of us that we come to him in a state of polite composure. But through remembering; sharing our stories; laughing and crying together we will find the strength for each new day’s challenge. Remembering our loved ones might be painful, but forgetting them or allowing others to forget them would be a far greater tragedy. So as we share in the many acts of remembrance during November, let us pray that by God’s grace we might reach that place where, like Paul, we can look back and say “I thank my God, every time I remember you.”