Selective Memory as a Growing Pain in Spiritual Maturity

This week I attended a missionary retreat in southern Georgia. During the retreat, the facilitators asked each attendee to share their life story. This is more or less the story of how you arrived at having a personal relationship with Jesus and then how you ended up where you are in ministry and life today.

One of the things that we joked about as a group was that sometimes Christian life stories are full of fun and exciting rebellious behavior at the beginning, then after they find Jesus, the story gets incredibly boring.

While we joked about this, this is a very real concern for some people—becoming a Christian means having a boring life. I think that this false characterization of the Christian life is the result of a number of things, but one of the key things that this story illustrates is selective memory as a growing pain in spiritual maturity.

Simply put, we remember things differently than they actually were. One of the clear growing pains of spiritual maturity detailed in the story of Israel’s Wilderness crossing is remembering their life before God’s deliverance as unrealistically positive.

Once Israel arrived in the Wilderness, they started complaining immediately about how life in Egypt was better than their life now. The text quotes the Israelites saying, “’If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,’ they moaned. ‘There we sat around pots filled with mean and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to stave us all to death’” (Ex. 16:3).

But wait a minute! Was life really that good while in Egypt? Just a few chapters before this says, “But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God” (Exo. 2:23). Adding to this, Exodus chapters 1 and 2 detail that Pharaoh, king of Egypt, even killed all the firstborn males of the Hebrew families! And that was better than the wilderness?!

This is what sin does to us when we’re growing spiritually—it takes advantage of our selective memory. It makes us think that life was so much better before becoming a Christian—so much more exciting and satisfying! Life as a non-Christian was fun and care free!

This is a lie. Period.

Unfortunately, much of the human reality is characterized by the grass always being greener on the other side. Even the Psalmist voices this. Psalm 73:3 says, “For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.”

As Christians, we have to approach everything with an eternal perspective. This life is just a blink. The challenges and difficulties that way may suffer today as Christians are only for a moment. Furthermore, the difficulties of this “in between” are a time of preparation and deepening of the human heart for a substantial life in God that is without end and filled with mystery.

To finish, Psalm 37 says this, “Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither. Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”

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