If your story is not remembered, you will cease to exist.
I just finished the challenging novel Time’s Memory by Julius Lester. I’m not writing a review here – I’ll include it for next years “A Year of Books” roundup – but the book concludes with this thought: If your story is not remembered, you will cease to exist.
In part, I agree with this conclusion.
In our lives, we want our stories to be known. We want to be remembered. How wonderful it is when someone you haven’t seen in years sees your face and says, “I remember you! How have you been?” And maybe share a story about you with a friend you’ve never met! To have these shared stories binds us.
As a culture, we’ve lost our shared stories and replaced them with memes. We’ve replaced them with statuses. We’ve replaced them with facts.
None of those things are bad in themselves, of course. I enjoy reading a quick meme. Status updates from friends lets me know how they’re doing. Facts tell me about the state of reality.
But none of those things are stories. They can combine to tell compelling stories, but they are not stories in and of themselves.
In Time’s Memory, when people die, they long to be remembered. They need their stories told and remembered, or they cannot find rest. When they begin to be forgotten, their spirits become angry, despairing, vengeful.
I see that with people today. When someone is forgotten, when their story brushed off, they become angry, despairing, vengeful.
I think we forget sometimes that one of the greatest gifts we have is not telling our own stories, but listening to the stories of others.
I think that’s why authors are either the best listeners or the worst. The best authors listen to the stories around them and retell them. That way, when someone reads the tale, it’s almost like someone has heard their own story and repeated it back to them, reminding them who they are. A tale well told is medicine for the spirit, not because the story is good in and of itself, but because it reflects the reader.
The worst authors, though, tell their own stories, having refused to listen to those around them. These authors write only their own stories. Perhaps they are known, then, but it seems that they do not know.
We ache to share our stories. We long to be known.
And it terrifies us.
I don’t want you to know my story. Not really. Though I have learned to be more transparent than once I was, though I share more than I ever have before, there are still dark corners of my heart I won’t bring to light. I don’t want you to turn away in disgust. I don’t want to be rejected. And so I present my best face, my victorious face, my pleasant face, and not my true face. Not really. Masks are better. Masks are safer.
And yet I long to be known. I want my story told.
And here, here is why the Bible is the best story: it is my story, told over and over again, in blood and pain and redemption.
It tells me of what I have done: over and over again, I see people rejecting good, embracing evil, doing what they know to be wrong. And though those people lived two thousand years ago and farther back in time, I do what they do. Our stories are the same.
It tells me what I deserve: over and over again, there is just punishment.
It tells me what I have been given: over and over again, God brings forgiveness and grace.
Here, I see the God who knows my story, who remembers me, who has walked with me every dirty step of the way, and never abandoned me. Here is the God who remembers all my story… and chooses to die for a sinner like me.
My story is not forgotten.
And I will never cease to exist.
No one will. God knows all our stories. And it is either the story of the redeemed sinner clinging to Jesus… or it is the story of the sinner who refuses grace, and chooses hell.
No one ceases to exist. God remembers our stories.
I am thankful he has rewritten mine. I am thankful he came and blotted out the parts of my story – so many parts – where I rejected him, where I embraced sin. I am thankful he took those stains in my story and wrote them onto himself on the cross.
Because of Jesus, I know how my story ends. My story doesn’t end here in despair. It doesn’t end forgotten.
My story ends in glory, because Jesus died for me.
And my story is not forgotten. Never, ever forgotten – because my story is now His.