What’s one of your first memories? Does it include a certain scent? A particular taste? What makes that memory come to life to you even now, so many years later? Hopefully you have positive memories from your childhood—a trip to the beach, the smell of funnel cakes at a carnival. But there are also memories you’ve probably tried to outrun: a bully, a teacher who wrote you off as stupid, or worse.
Casey Tygrett’s new book, As I Recall, invites readers to engage with their memories—both good and painful—as part of spiritual formation. Tygrett argues that “[e]ven though transformation is seen as a future-oriented work, memory matters in the sacred work of spiritual transformation” (4). Memories, which Tygrett frequently refers to as “shells,” (as in the jar of shells you bring home from a trip to the beach) create the stories we believe about ourselves, others, and God. Eventually, these stories become scripts by which we live our lives—sometimes in ways that keep us fragile and bitter, rather than living the lives of abundance that God has designed for us.While scary, As I Recall is a reminder that entering into our darkest moments of sin, failure, or shame is not nearly as terrifying when we prayerfully enter alongside God’s redemptive presence.
As I Recall discourages the common mantra that we ought to simply “move on” from our painful pasts. If you’ve tried this, you know it is impossible. Instead, Tygrett encourages us to see that every memory—when we engage it in the presence of Jesus—belongs to our lives, and to our story. We desperately need Jesus to redeem our memories, to make sense of our most painful moments. When we are willing to honestly enter into our past with God, “[m]oments we have considered worthless or even harmful are suddenly given value by the God who heals–the God who lives not in calendar time with its various demands, but in kairos time, which is best described as nonchronological sacredness” (63). Tygrett points out the characters of the Bible who experienced painful pasts, like Joseph and Paul, did not forget what had been done to them or what they had done, respectively, but rather understood their pasts as examples of God’s miraculous redemption.
Allowing our painful memories to be redeemed, the book argues, also gives us wisdom. When we accept that all of our memories belong in the tapestry of our lives that God is weaving together into something beautiful, we are able to reach out to others who are experiencing pain today. We can offer what we have learned through our memories to younger generations so that hopefully they do not have to go through all of the same mistakes that we made. And finally, when we walk through the wilderness in the present, memories of how God carried us through past desserts can help us build resilience.
As I Recall seeks to help readers understand the importance of their memories in their spiritual formation. After each chapter, there are “Practice” and “Pause” sections that encourage readers to explore some of their own formative memories to better understand how those moments have shaped their story; the exercises also guide audiences to enter into those memories with God, asking Him to reveal how He was working in those times. For those who are frequent journalers, this is certainly a book that you want to open next to your notebook and pen.
Everything we do today is formed by our past moments. Certainly, then, we ought to be reflective of how our past has molded us. While scary, As I Recall is a reminder that entering into our darkest moments of sin, failure, or shame is not nearly as terrifying when we prayerfully enter alongside God’s redemptive presence. And when we allow Christ’s work to satisfy in those moments, our false selves can slowly be stripped away so that we can experience true, unhindered life.
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