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Imagine that you just met someone intriguing. You want to get to know each other better. That person asks you: “Tell me five stories about yourself that will help me know the real you.”
What stories would you tell?
The key stories of our lives define us. Jefferson Singer, a professor of psychology, encourages us to inventory “memories that matter.” He observes that we have all had experiences that have taught us, enriched us, and defined us. We know who we are because we remember our stories.
We can all list great experiences. Maybe we recall childhood wonder, youthful discovery, meaningful friendships, and extraordinary opportunity. When we create and retain such lists of positive experiences, we find greater meaning and coherence in our lives. When we see the gifts of life through the lens of faith, we feel enlarged gratitude to God. We know who we are and why God created us.
Let me give an example of some of my defining memories. When I was born, Mom and Dad brought me home from the hospital to an army barracks that Dad was converting into our home. The house was surrounded by alfalfa fields owned by my grandfather. I was blessed to observe my Dad’s labors from the time I was born. There was also time for joy. I remember a time when I was a little boy that Dad took the bailed alfalfa and stacked it into a fort for my brother and me. It was magical!
May I give an adult example? When I was a new professor of Family and Child Development at Auburn University, a national program leader from Washington, D.C. asked me if he could take me out for breakfast. I was glad to go. He chatted with me about my training, my research, and my interests. Then he asked me if I would join a group of three seasoned professors to create a summary of the research on parenting, a summary intended to guide the work of professionals nationwide for years to come. I was glad to be a part of that team. I worked with some of the best people in the field. Those associations blessed my career immensely. Yet I did not do anything to win that opportunity; God dropped it into my lap.
I have reflected on my life, listing important memories in every era of my life. Those are dozens of experiences on my list—experiences that define who I am. They not only pay tribute to God for His abundant blessings but they give important clues about my nature and disposition. They define me.
Your life experiences are different from anyone else’s on earth. You may be tempted to compare your experiences with someone else’s and find yours to be inferior. You may be envious of another person’s success, prominence, or happiness. That is a mistake. When we comb our memories for blessings, we will find that God has given us the experiences that were customized for us. We will discover that He has been looking after us from the beginning—attending to our growth and our happiness.
God’s gifts to us include hard experiences. I have learned to be grateful for painful experiences, major disappointments, and heart break. I sense that God is trying to teach me to be more faithful and more obedient. I am trying to learn from sorrow as well as joy.
Samuel the Lamanite challenged us:
Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord your God for them; yea, your hearts are not drawn out unto the Lord, but they do swell with great pride, unto boasting, and unto great swelling, envyings, strifes, malice, persecutions, and murders, and all manner of iniquities. Helaman 13:22
Remembering God’s blessings to us across our lifetimes opens the door to faith in His purposes. Memories that honor His work in our lives are memories that matter.
Your list of memories that matter may be 10 items listed on lined paper, or a collection of pictures or sketches, or a shadowbox with objects that remind you of great moments in your life.
Then is my soul filled with joy; then do I remember what the Lord has done for me, yea, even that he hath heard my prayer; yea, then do I remember his merciful arm which he extended towards me. (Alma 29:10)
To read more about the role of memories, read Jefferson Singer’s Memories that Matter.
To learn more about finding joy in life, read my Finding Joy in Family Life.