Have you ever felt forgotten?
My dad likes to tell a rather memorable story from when he was a small child. One Easter Sunday, when my dad was 5 or 6 years old, he woke up early, excited. That day, like it is for a lot of families, would be filled with treats and a big family meal.
Well, my dad jumped out of bed and he went bursting into the kitchen, only to find no one was there. Confused, he walked into the living room, which was also empty. With anxiety rising in his little spirit, he ran to the bedrooms, the bathroom, and even checked the closets only to find that his parents and older sister were nowhere to be found.
He was now in a panic. He was completely alone in the house. Using his 5-year-old logic, my dad deduced that the rapture happened and he had been left behind, the lone unholy one in his entire family. He was completely forgotten, in his mind. He sat on the couch and started wailing.
About 20 minutes later, the rest of the family came back home. As it turns out, my grandparents and aunt had decided to go to an early Easter Sunrise service, didn’t want to disturb my dad from his sleep, and thought they could sneak out and sneak back in before he awoke. So they left their 5 year old son at home on purpose. #ParentingGoals
I am sure many of us can relate to something similar. Maybe you were accidentally left at the grocery store or maybe you were the one forgetting someone else, like the time I accidentally left my two-year-old daughter at church, when I drove home. Luckily, I only lived two blocks from church at the time.
These are some small, brief and finite examples of being forgotten, but can you imagine being forgotten for large swaths of time? People in assisted living facilities with no family in town for regular visits. The new kid in school who doesn’t speak English yet, intimidated, with no classmates reaching out to her. When my son was born prematurely, I remember a couple of the babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit who never had the adults in their lives visit or stay with them. If not for the caring nurses, no one would have even held them.
Perhaps no group feels more forgotten than prison inmates. First, how about a few prison statistics for you. The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons and jails — a 500% increase over the last forty years. The number of women in prison has been increasing at twice the rate of growth for men since 1980. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are 2.7 times as likely. For black men in their thirties, about 1 in every 12 is in prison or jail on any given day. So, one in 9 of all men and 1 of 56 women will go to prison at some point in their lives.
Statistically speaking this means some of you know all about this kind of being forgotten. And if we don’t go to prison, likely one of our loved ones will or has.
Hebrews 13 uses it as a very specific example of remembering those whom our world forgets. “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”
We live in a society that tucks people away as if they didn’t exist. We tend to think of forgetting as something that just happens as an accident; like spacing on a lunch date, but there is a really serious kind of forgetting that is actually intentional. We choose to forget certain people or events, because it’s overwhelming to think about those who are suffering, when our lives are infinitely simpler and if we’re being honest with ourselves, we would like to keep it that way.
We forget because it helps us to avoid some of our worst fears, which are, ironically that we would be forgotten and removed from community ourselves. I had an experience just Friday when I was listening to a news story about the torture happening to Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of Indian Hindu nationalists. I almost turned the radio off, because it was horrifying. What a privilege for me to have the choice to escape. My life would have been a little simpler that day if I could just forget.
Many Americans express disgust over what is happening in the socio-political landscape of our country. How many times have you heard people jokingly threaten to move to Canada? I know I have said it. But the fact that some are privileged enough to have that choice. Many others, like immigrants and the poor could never leave and will be at the mercy of whatever policies are passed.
We as Christians are not called to forget, we are called to remember. The writer of Hebrews instructs that part of our Christian witness is to remind ourselves, our government officials, and even those hidden from everyday sight that they are human and a part of us. You see, just as forgetting can be intentional, so can remembering.
Remembering is really just another word for prayer. Remembering serves a purpose. Remembering means taking a detail from our own lives or our shared history and bringing it to the present so that we might reflect and wonder about it.
When we practice remembering, it widens our communal circles. Remembering forms empathy in our hearts. Remembering readjusts our priorities. Remembering sparks curiosity and generates ideas for solutions. Remembering is a key to “letting mutual love continue”, as Hebrews says, and the empathy drawn from the practice turns who we thought were strangers into angels. When we remember both our lives and the lives of others, all of us are transformed.
Remembering is the act of submitting ourselves to God’s formation that empowers us to action. That means remembering isn’t simply “thoughts and prayers”; remembering can jumpstart a revolution.
We don’t need to be afraid that remembering will bring us to a place that is dangerous or overwhelming. It likely will, however, bring us out of our comfort zones. But just as we are learning to put aside forgetting, God has not forgotten us. God has not raptured our families away on Easter Sunday, God is right there with us, patiently giving us strength, wisdom, empathy, bravery, and grace to help us remember well.