Memories are amazing things. We can remember smells and sounds, facts and figures, events and images. More amazingly, we can remember emotions. We can never have enough happy memories, while we usually try hard to suppress painful memories.
Memories sometimes seem to have their own willpower. We can choose to recall them from our vast collection of things remembered, but how often have memories just popped up uninvited? So many things can trigger memories, especially pictures and music. Every time I prepare one of these posts I am forced to confront the range of emotions caused by viewing all the pictures and videos of our son, Elijah.
On the evening of Mother’s Day, after visiting Elijah’s final destination spot in the woods, our family gathered to watch videos of all the kids when they were little. We laughed a lot. There were so many happy memories, but we also had moments of sadness.
So here is a mystery I have been pondering: sometimes the very events that created happy memories can suddenly and simultaneously create in us pain and sorrow. During these past months we have been processing through boxes of Elijah’s possessions that Melanie was wise enough to save. It seems almost daily that we reflect with fond memories on some item of his. But then we find ourselves regretting the finality of his loss. We realize that the memories of Elijah will be all we have left. And then we cry. It’s a predictable cycle that we have come to accept as unavoidable.
How can a memory hold for us both happiness and sadness? They are opposing emotions, and it seems odd that they should coexist in the same memory of an event. It’s as though the sadness has appeared as a bacteria affecting the health of our memories. If we are not careful we will find ourselves avoiding memories that used to make us happy.
But I have discovered an antibiotic: Gratitude. Expressing thankfulness is an amazingly effective treatment for reducing sadness and restoring happiness. In our case, we are so thankful for having Elijah with us, even for a short time. He was such a cute baby, a truly delightful little boy and an amazing young man. We are thankful that he surrendered his heart to the Lord and caught fire for the Kingdom of God before he died. We are thankful that even now he is having a positive impact on countless numbers of people in dozens of countries worldwide. We are thankful that even in his death God is fulfilling what Elijah told me last November: that God would use him to reach millions for the Lord.
So when I am sad, I inject gratitude. When I think of Elijah, I appreciate the gift that he was to us. When I remember him, I remember also to thank God for him. In the words of the Apostle Paul:
I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)
God is healing our broken hearts. But through gratitude He is also restoring our happy memories.
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