I’ve been thinking about memories this week so here’s my question for you today:
What’s your happiest or most comforting childhood memory? It might only be a fragment, but it’s likely something that comes up in your mind every so often.
I’ve got two memories:
Most comforting: When I was 5 or 6 my mom, dad and I went out into our yard to pick up pinecones. If you live in NC with a lot of pine trees you know the drill. I was pulling my red radio flyer wagon and filling it up as we went but something happened, and I got stung on the ear by a hornet. I was crying. But I remember my mom picking me up and carrying me to my bed, putting a cold towel on my ear and sitting with me singing a song.
For me, I remember this at odd times. I remember nothing else about that time in my life…just this.
My happiest childhood memory comes with my great grandfather, Raymond, at Myrtle Beach. The memory is very hazy, but we were running together on the beach in the early morning right at the edge of where the ocean tide meets the dry sand. I don’t remember anything else – just this…but it brings me such joy.
What are your memories?
Through my study on the brain I’ve come to understand that, in some strange way, there are two selves contained within each person – the soul self and the brain self…and they don’t always agree. The brain is consumed with survival. Left to its own, it doesn’t really care about your happiness…just with keeping you alive. One of the tools the brain uses to keep you alive is anxiety. Anxiety closes you down, limits your vision, pushes people away, and ultimately makes you stay where you are. If we are full of anxiety, we will not explore new places or new things – which may be deemed unknown, and therefore, dangerous by our brains.
But hidden within and powering that anxiety might be memories of painful experiences, perhaps that we had as a child. Experiences that we may not even remember fully.
I knew a person who hated bicycles and had so much anxiety when they had to ride one. They didn’t know why they felt this way and they didn’t even realize there was a connection between their feelings and bikes. I asked them if they have ever had an accident on a bike…they had to think for a bit, but then remembered that as a child they had a bad accident and got really injured.
This is what the brain does – it lessens the exact memory of pain but heightens the anxiety around the experience. The brain was telling my friend that bikes were dangerous and the anxiety kept them from getting on one – because, well, to their brain every bike ride was going to end in the same sort of pain.
In some ways our brains are trying to trap us, and it is only when we begin to realize the way the brain is working can we begin to escape its effects on us.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my good memories lately – focusing in on them. Remember who was there with me and how these memories make me feel. They are happy. They are surrounded by love. The smells of pinecones and the feel of the wet cloth on my ear. The laughs with my grandfather.
But I’ve been trying to take it a step further to also give those around me experiences of care and happiness. If this is what it means for me to be cared for and what makes me happy – then I should be caring for people around me like this – carrying them when they hurt, sitting with them with they are in despair, allowing my presence to be a comfort to them. And I should be giving people around me moments of carefree love – running with them on the beaches of life (so to speak).
Because here’s the ultimate point: The brain of every single person around you right now is in complete survival mode, reacting to uncertainty and brimming with anxiety. But what if we could tap into our best memories right now and intentionally give that same level of care and love to the people in our lives. What if we could use our own experiences as a roadmap towards easing the anxiety of those around us?
I believe that if we do this, we will ease the anxiety in ourselves, too.
Our brain wants to see an enemy around every corner, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who may see us as a threat.
Our brain wants to hold us back and keep us in safe spaces, but Jesus tells us to go out into all the unknown world and be instruments of peace to those around us.
Our brain wants to fight or flee when we encounter stressful situations, but Jesus tells us to be merciful in all situations.
I’m still trying to figure out how to love my enemies and be an instrument of peace and to show mercy in every situation – but I find that tapping into the memories of when I was shown these things truly helps to reframe my mind from stress to peace and to equip me to be the person I want to be.
To me, I need to remind myself and my brain that I’m going to live for love – not just survival. To let the best memories of my past inform my best future. I believe this is the Jesus way.
Let’s be the people we are called to be today and in living our calling…live as our truest and best selves!
Hope you have a great day!