In my class this past fall I completed my first Russian novel—The Brothers Karamazov. (Crime and Punishment is still on the list, but I want to give my full attention to it.) One of the major threads in Dostoevsky’s story is the importance of memory. This quote means so much more if you’ve read the book because of the way Dostoevsky ties things together, but at the end, the youngest brother Alyosha, who is rather innocent and yet wise for his age, meets with a group of schoolboys he has befriended after the burial of one of their young friends and tells them:

‘You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home….If a man carries many such memories with him into his life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one’s heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.’[1]

Shortly after finishing this great work, I had a one-time meeting with another believer over Zoom. It was honestly one of those moments Lewis describes in his chapter on friendship in The Four Loves when two people realize “You too? I thought I was the only one,”[2]the kind of meeting Lucy Pevensie has while sailing to World’s End in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

Suddenly she saw a little Sea Girl of about her own age in the middle of them—a quiet, lonely-looking girl with a sort of crook in her hand. Lucy felt sure that this girl must be a shepherdess—or perhaps a fish-herdess—and that the shoal was really a flock at pasture. Both the fishes and the girl were quite close to the surface. And just as the girl, gliding in the shallow water, and Lucy, leaning over the bulwark, came opposite to one another, the girl looked up and stared straight into Lucy’s face. Neither could speak to the other and in a moment the Sea Girl dropped astern. But Lucy will never forget her face. It did not look frightened or angry like those of the other Sea People. Lucy had liked that girl and she felt certain the girl had liked her. In that one moment they had somehow become friends. There does not seem to be much chance of their meeting again in that world or any other. But if ever they do they will rush together with their hands held out.[3]

We had shyly met to get to know one another, but in this one hour on a Thursday in December, we found ourselves discussing the importance of memories, especially God’s faithfulness and how He is constantly telling his people to “Remember when…” This fellow believer then reminded me of the passages in Isaiah where God tells us to “Remember not…” but then later “Remember when…” He had no idea what had been transpiring in my life (and certainly not what would in the following months), nor did he realize what he was pouring into my soul—a sure sign of God’s sovereignty and work of the Holy Spirit in one person humble enough to unwittingly carry the burden of his neighbor’s glory.[4] Below are the passages he was referencing:

Isaiah 43:18-19

“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

and later in 46:8-11

8 “Remember this and stand firm,
recall it to mind, you transgressors,
9 remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
I have purposed, and I will do it.

I’ve needed so much hope, and honestly as someone who has struggled with depression for years and then the health issues of the past few months, it’s been quite hard. Some of my biggest fears are being forgotten or not believed, of having no voice or significance, of being disposable. That may be rather self-absorbed, but God knows we are dust, and His promises assure us of His faithfulness. The past few months, years really, but especially the past few months have been filled with reminders of Who He Is, that He is the only God, His name is Jealous, and there is no other Savior. He will fight for me (though not always in the way I want). It is as if anything that is not Him, even good things, is being stripped away.

I wasn’t sure what to do about Lent this year. Some years I have gone through the practice of giving something up and others not—just depended on what seemed needed to focus. And then this year it seemed that a lot was done for me—I have intensely felt in so many areas that I have been incapacitated and forced to give up some core things. I felt completely stripped down to my core, like different parts of me kept dying. I haven’t been able to write about it yet, and even now my words feel so clunky. I’ve felt I was dying a bunch of little deaths every time I turned around—and it has made me think so differently about the Christian life, and then when I hear the readings about Christ’s passion things are highlighted for me, and I’m able to imagine more of what all He gave up and dealt with—not that my stuff compares, and there’s been plenty of despair—it’s just suffering is very real for me right now, and so when I hear about His sufferings, the hints and glimpses are far more real, and I’m able to think how much more He willingly endured. I’m also reminded of how much is done for me, that I can’t do on my own. He is making sure the Gospel is fully formed in me, whatever the cost to Him or me.

Not long ago, I jotted down the following thoughts, desperately trying to cling to memories of God’s track record. I hope they offer some form of hope for someone. At times words seem hollow, however true, but then at just the right moment God uses them, even when they seem feeble and less than eloquent.

God hears. God sees.

Those four words I have repeated to myself over and over and over again. 

I don’t always believe them. But like Puddleglum burning his feet in the fire and insisting Aslan exists, I’m desperate to believe them.

Two stories I cling to, at least sometimes, but God always draws me back, two stories part of the Story of Redemption, are the stories of Hannah and Hagar.

These have been perhaps my favorite women in the Bible for over a decade now, and it’s not because of what they did. So many people want to emphasize the girl power you can find in Bible stories, and yes, God does embolden women, like Aslan making Lucy a lioness. But that’s not the primary focus here, thank the Lord. I don’t need the extra pressure right now.

These were women who were weak and didn’t really end up being as “impressive” as the others that people talk about. They weren’t perfect either. Hagar could be a mean girl just as much as Sarah. Hannah sank so low she made a bargain with God. She kept it, but it’s not really something people recommend. 

But God saw when Sarah misused and abused Hagar mentally, emotionally, spiritually, even sexually—out of her own lack of faith. He saw when Abraham did the same at the request of his wife, trusting a mean girl over a good God. He saw her despise Sarah, turn her own blessing from God of a son into a way to spite this woman who had wounded her. He allowed Abraham to abandon her and send her and Ishmael away, even told him to listen to Sarah. God saw her son dying of thirst. He saw her desperately searching for a well and unable to see it.

He heard her cries, Ishmael’s cries, the curses muttered under her breath, the prayers for forgiveness, all of it. He heard what no one else could or would hear. It is here that Hagar calls God El Roi, the God Who Sees, and Ishmael’s name means “God hears.”

And He saw Hannah. He saw her suffer the abuse of Peninnah. The day in, day out torments with every biting and passive aggressive remark, every smirk, every pontification meant to put her “in her place” as an inferior woman. Every denial of any wrongdoing, saying it was all in her head, the gathering of other women to join in, the pretense when their husband was around—or perhaps not. (She may have flaunted it.) Whatever the particulars of her torments, God also saw Elkanah mean well and fail to protect, fail to comfort, no matter how hard he tried, for he was not her true deliverer. He heard Elkanah give gentler versions of the “man up speech,” given because what else could the woman expect him to do? He saw and heard when Elkanah failed to see and hear. And He saw when the priest Eli misjudged, assumed, and even accused her of being drunk, in sin, that crazy women who needed to pull it together. And what’s more, He not only saw and heard, but He remembered her.

Psalm 56:8
You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?

Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness by Gustave Dore

[1] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Constance Garnett, The Great Books of the Western World. Vol. 52. ed. Mortimer J. Adler, (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 1990), Epilogue, ch. 3, pp. 430-431.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, 1988), 65.

[3] C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, (New York: Harper Trophy, 1980), 254-255, emphasis mine.

[4] “It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.” from C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in The Weight of Glory and Other Essays, (New York: Harper Collins, 1980), 45.

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