Longing for the Memories that Shaped Us.

Memory shapes us. When you ask why someone does something odd, the answer is that they picked the habit up when they were small. Perhaps they are afraid of worms, or have trouble looking into another person‘s eyes when they speak, or have a deathly fear of disapproval. I myself watch fearfully when I see someone playfully wrestle with a dog, because I was bitten by our retriever when I was young.

Bits and pieces of our past bond together to form a collective “wisdom” of sorts, and we apply that wisdom to daily circumstances. Often it is the primary or even sole thing we depend on to interpret surroundings and make predictions for the future. We learn to trust it, and when it fails we struggle with the disconnect. It is a checklist, giving us a range of possible outcomes based on the circumstances. When events or outcomes differ from what the checklist says will happen, we feel lost in uncertainty.

Our perspective on how to handle a bully, for instance, is probably shaped heavily (though perhaps unconsciously) by the unique combination of experiences we had with bullies growing up. I had the good fortune to be in a very safe environment, and that is part of the reason I view bullies as quite silly and harmless. My wife experienced bullying in a very different light, and so aggressive people make it hard for us to reconcile our two “wisdoms,” because they are so different from each other.

This personal wisdom needs to come under submission to the absolute truth of God’s wisdom in Scripture. It is the only true and unchanging standard, the only place where the vast array of personal experiences can find agreement and peace. Still, when our lives hit the “gray areas,” that Scripture does not clearly speak to, we tend to fall back to the wisdom born of experience.

This past weekend, I went home for my dad’s wedding. Everything about the wedding was excellent. His new wife is terrific, and a welcome addition to our family. The event went smoothly, and my dad was clear in expressing his love for his kids.

So why did the kids all feel an ugly and powerful sense of hurt and loss?

I’ve been struggling with this question because I don’t WANT to feel it. It seems sinful and mistrusting and unkind and petty. The worst part is that it feels like it is slamming a wedge of separation between my dad and his kids… a wedge we do not understand, cannot see, and do not know how to fight.

Strangely enough, it’s a quote from one of my “weirdo movies” (as my wife likes to call them) that has started me down what I hope will be a beneficial path. It’s from “Garden State,” and the hero is trying to come to terms with his feeling of separation from his family, especially his father.

Andrew: You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of the sudden, even though you have some place where you can put your stuff, that idea of home is gone.

Sam: I still feel at home in my house.

Andrew: You'll see when you move out. It just sort of happens one day one and it's just gone. And you can never get it back. It's like you get homesick for a place that doesn't exist. I mean it's like this rite of passage, you know. You won't have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that's all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

I think my dad’s remarriage has hit us at a funny time, when we are at different stages of leaving our old home and entering a new life. Actually, it’s not just his remarriage. It’s the changes. It’s cooking and dancing and organic foods and a larger house and new clothes and travel and defensiveness. The safety of stepping back into the home of our memory is gone. We can’t pull up to the old house, pop in the side door, and ask mom what she’s making (well, reheating) for dinner while dad wrestles with a sibling in the family room. We can't even tease him in the same way. Nearly every aspect of that place is gone, and my dad was the lifeline. And now he’s changing too, and we react with fear and uncertainty.

We try to put it into words, but it comes out wrong. We complain about going too fast, or being too physical, or spending too much, or seeming too yuppyish, but we don’t really mean those things. What we mean is that we miss who we were, and we don’t know how to hang on to the things we loved.

"Homesick for a place that doesn't exist," is a good way of putting it. The fact is, I just want the joy of what was, but it is gone. I wish I were better at coming to terms with that.

The Bible is not specific on this idea. I think I could combine some structured thoughts to describe how, “a man leaves his father and mother,” connects with, “blessed are those who mourn,” and, “God is disciplining you as sons,” to form a picture of God’s desires for us in this time. But I’m too tired today.

The thing is, God has given me great gifts of love and nurture and joy in my childhood. Those memories and experiences have been key to becoming who I am now, and have prepared me for God’s purposes. Still, they are gone. My goal must be to love and appreciate them for the way God used them, but they are not mine to grasp.

When my mom died, she was gone. I still cry when I see certain pictures or videos, and still miss her whenever something significant happens in my life. But letting go of her is something God has given me as part of my development, and the same is true of my childhood, the place I miss and long for that no longer exists.

It is time to create something new, armed with the character God has given through gifts of wonderful parents, a joyous childhood, and a flood of memories that contribute to my unique brand of personal wisdom. I will continue to mourn in certain ways, but I should also have joy as God completes his plans for me in my life.

Lord, I am desperately thankful for your gifts in my life. Teach me how to mourn with joy; and then move on. Teach me also to take up the responsibility of creating a new idea of home in humble submission to your plans, rather than holding on to a place that you have allowed to pass away. Teach me perseverance and joy.



amanda said...

Hmm.. This is a good illustration of having joy in midst of mourning. I hope all is well :)

Samantha said...

What beautiful writing Ben. I cannot tell you how closely I can relate to what you are feeling, and I am certain many others can relate to what you are saying as well. Thanks for pointing out what we all feel, yet could not understand.

Grandma Bartlett said...

Dear Ben, I agree with Samantha, what you wrote is exactly what I've been trying to explain to people who ask "how are the kids doing". I've seen this happening and I feel such sorrow for each of you. However, I know the deep love you all have for the Lord and the willingness to submit to all that He brings into your life, accepting each thing as an opportunity to know Him better, love Him more. I don’t worry as much because I know He is faithful, forever. I love you. Grandma

amanda said...

hey I was thinking about apply for jobs in KY too.