What Are You Forgetting?

I’m at that age where I forget why I walked into a room on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Truth be told, I’ve been like that most of my life, so I think it’s less about my age and more about having too many thoughts in my head at one time. At least, that’s what I tell myself these days!

Actually, it may just be that I’m human. In 1885 a German by the name of Hermann Ebbinghaus got curious about memory and decided to run some experiments. He memorized short nonsense words and measured how long it took him to forget them. The results became the basis of how we understand memory retention today.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve describes how we (generally speaking) lose memory over time. The bad news is that we lose what we’ve learned pretty quickly. Without diving too deep into it, Ebbinghaus’ theory says that unless what we learn is consciously reviewed over and over again, we naturally lose the memory of learned knowledge over time. “Over time” is pretty quickly. We tend to lose about 60% within the first few days and then (thankfully) it slows down.

This explains why cramming for a test can get you a passing grade, but doesn’t help you in the long run. Actually, it could start some interesting discussions about our education system, but that’s not at all why I’m mentioning it today. 

I’m attending Podcast Movement this week, the largest podcasting conference in the country. Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve was mentioned today in a breakout session when a speaker was talking about branding. There are over 700,000 podcast episodes out there and I think that’s a 2018 figure, so way out of date in a rapidly changing industry. It’s hard to make your branding stand out in a field that crowded. 

It got me thinking about the importance of remembering. 

Be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:12)

God had to tell the Israelites not to forget him. They’d seen the Angel of Death pass over their households, seen the Red Sea part, seen the Pharaoh’s army obliterated in front of them, seen the pillar of fire, and eaten food God provided every day. God had not been distant, he’d been very present with them. And he had to tell them to remember him?

We forget so easily.

It’s easy to believe the Israelites were foolish and we’d never do such a thing. But, Ebbinghaus says there’s a mathematical formula for my forgetfulness. I can’t argue with math. As often as I lose my keys, I’m sure I’d be right there with them, needing a reminder.

When I act out of fear, I’ve forgotten how faithful God is. When I don’t forgive others, I’ve forgotten how much I’ve been forgiven. I’m certainly as spiritually forgetful as the Israelites. The good news is that there are ways to overcome Ebbinghaus’ Forgetfulness Curve. 

I’m writing this late after a long conference day, so I’m not going to get into the science of memory retention. But, let’s think for just a few minutes about how we can go about not forgetting God on a practical level.

Odds are you won’t actually forget that God exists. But, you might let some distance creep into your relationship. You might forget who’s supposed to be in control of your life. You might forget who really owns all that you have. You might forget you’re deeply loved. You might forget God’s promises and warnings.

What’s the best way to remember? 

Spend time with God. Cultivate an intimate relationship. Develop spiritual habits like Bible reading and prayer.

My son, pay attention to my words;
listen closely to my sayings.
Don’t lose sight of them;
keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them,
and health to one’s whole body.  (Proverbs 4:20-22)

We as humans are prone to forget. But, it’s critically important to develop a rhythm of remembering in your life. What’s one small step you can take toward that today?

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