Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
CLICK HERE to get your copy of Joni’s newest book, A Little Christmas Prayer.
I’m going to make the understatement of the day: Sometimes parents and kids remember events differently. Any parent—and any grown child—will tell you this is absolutely true, from what happened on a vacation to the quarrel you thought you helped settle fairly but which you are now discovering wasn’t perceived as fair at all. You find yourself wishing you could videotape your entire life so you could summon proof that it happened the way you remember.
Why do people recall things so vividly, yet so differently? There are many reasons for this. Sometimes our minds twist events to make them more palatable. Autobiographies and even history, are usually told to put the teller’s side in the most flattering light.
We also skew the facts for subconscious reasons: We associate the event with a similar one and mix them up. Our mood at the moment makes us see an event in an overly negative or positive light. Subsequent photos and videos make us remember our childhood differently. The retelling of family stories shapes our memory as events get embellished over the years. Remember the “telephone game” where a line is whispered to one person, who tells it to the next, who tells it to the next, and so on until it doesn’t even resemble the original sentence? It isn’t that we have bad intentions; we simply fall prey to the tricks of the brain.
Have you ever had someone misquote you? (People who are written up in newspapers will tell you this happens the vast majority of the time.) When you hear someone say, “Well, she said…” you are occasionally stunned. The person may even be well-meaning, and just has the facts wrong.
Trial lawyers will tell you they try to ascertain facts in discovery early on, because time itself warps memories. Let’s say there’s a hit-and-run collision in a busy intersection. You could interview four eye-witnesses, one standing on each corner, and get four different stories. Add time and now you have four more completely different stories. Maybe one person thinks, That’s a Toyota truck—my grandpa drove a Toyota. And now his estimate of the driver’s age goes up.
Our memory is also influenced by how strong our emotions are about the event. This can work in your favor when you’re trying to learn something. I used to ask high school students what was tough to learn. Sometimes it was Chemistry. Math rules. Geography. Anatomy. Then I would tell them this story about my daughter, Nicole (and it’s entirely possible that Nicole remembers this differently!): In junior high she struggled to memorize the parts of a cell in biology because it didn’t interest her. But what she did like at that time, was wedding receptions. So I drew a cell for her and said, “Here’s where everybody parks. Here’s where they can enter, here’s where they can put their presents, here’s the cake, here’s where they can greet the bride and groom” and so on. Now she aced it.
Whenever we have something difficult to learn, it can help if we attach some kind of strong emotion to it. Picture the table of elements in a videogame. Imagine pirates fighting it out in the rivers of China. Make up a science fiction story of miniscule travelers in the human body, navigating the lymph system, avoiding nerves, steering past bones. Make up a board game, a poem, or a song, draw a picture that includes hidden formulas, whatever piques your interest.
Sometimes a mnemonic can help. Remember that the names of the Great Lakes spell HOMES? Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. Even learning musical notes on a staff can become easier with phrases such as, “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” Or, if your kid likes silly humor, “Eating Giant Beets Delights Farmers.”
So we know there are explanations for how all our memories fade and transform. Except one. And this is our memory of inspiration that comes from the Holy Ghost. This singular experience is immutable. Our recollections stay crisp and sharp, unchanging and indelible. We can bring to mind those moments when we felt suddenly prompted, even to reach out in a small kindness. And we definitely recall those unique experiences when we felt our testimony quicken into life.
But what about the many people—even strong, devoted members—who have never felt they’ve gotten that witness from the Holy Ghost? These are sometimes people who live by an even greater faith. They believe that God lives, that his Son is our Savior, and that the gospel of Christ was restored. It guides their steps and even their heartbeats, all without being able to point to that moment of clarity when they just knew. And I salute them. They define valor. They are examples of pure hope and trust. By continuing, resolute and faith-filled, they pull us all along.
Many of them have had spiritual experiences and just didn’t know that’s what was happening. When we do good and feel a rush of joy into our hearts, that doesn’t come from the adversary. It comes from Christ. It’s the Holy Ghost witnessing to us that we’re on the right track. When we feel stirrings of love as we help each other, when we forgive, when we’re caught off guard by joy after a tough sacrifice for the right reason, those feelings come from the Holy Ghost. Our leaders have taught that those who wish for a testimony confirmed by the Holy Ghost, will get one. They may already have one that has built like a dark room that slowly fills with light—there’s no one, distinct moment when the light was suddenly on. Yet there it is.
And having this distinct direction from the Holy Ghost does not mean people won’t fall prey to temptation, trip and fall, or even leave church activity. It just means that, when being truly honest, they’ll forever remember the experience. Even wicked Korihor eventually admitted that he knew the truth all along. Sometimes we bury our knowledge to justify our current behavior. But thousands who’ve come back say they never truly forgot. I think this gives great hope to those of us with loved ones who leave, yet who we know had a strong testimony at one time.
This explains how our mortal memories can fade, yet our testimony—a thing of eternity– can grow. Everything else can twist and bend as time and reflection seems to change the past. But what the Holy Ghost tells us stays true and constant. When we build upon that sure witness with our own study and prayer, our testimony flourishes and expands. We discover that we get to keep the one memory that matters most. And that a testimony is like a garden: It grows if you water it.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is destined to become a Christmas classic. This tale, for any reader of any faith, teaches us all the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.