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Our Accusing Memories

By Thom Hunter

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me." No doubt that seemed
like a effective chant and retort when we learned it in elementary school. After all, we weren't
allowed to retaliate with a stone. The rhyme is particularly good when shouted back in sing-
song fashion by an 8-year-old girl sticking her tongue out and making faces. Oh yeah . . . she
wasn't hurt at all by whatever words were thrown at her.

It's not true. Sadly, words are often more painful than the wounds inflicted by sticks and
stones. External bruises heal faster and usually scar less than the gashes caused by sharp-edged
nouns and adjectives. We hurl words and move on, defending our attacks with justifications
like "Well, it's the truth," or "He had it coming," and to make ourselves feel better, we say "He'll
get over it . . . probably be better for it." Yeah . . . at least we didn't hit her with a stick. See .
. . there's no scars. Only memories. Crippling memories.

We tend to remember the things that hurt us. That being so, it stands to reason, rightly or
wrongly, that people tend to remember the things we do that hurt them, even if we ask for
forgiveness. I suppose that's why we often say we are better able to forgive than to forget.
Many times people only forgive up to the point when something occurs which justified hauling
out all the things they have not forgotten, past sins in the record book. The weight of all the
memories overwhelms the forgiveness.

When I was disciplined and removed from a church because church leadership determined that
I was not overcoming the same-sex attraction sin that had such a tight grip on my life for so
long, the pastor reflected on his blog that the church would be blessed for having removed an
"immoral brother." Not a brother who had done something immoral or who had fallen . . . but
an "immoral brother." Ouch. I'm going to have a tough time forgetting that.

The need to consider discipline was brought on by my arrest in a public park in a sting
operation where I was accused of engaging in a lewd act, an act undefined in the arrest
complaint but elaborated on without merit by the pastor, conjuring up who-knows-what in the
minds of the congregation. No sticks, no stones, just reckless words unleashed to do great
harm. Still, the act of discipline and removal was based on what was determined to be record
of non-repentance. In other words, the list of past sins -- once said forgiven -- was brought
forth for reconsideration and the latest assumed fall was put forth as proof that God had not
worked in my life; I had not repented; I was not a Christian. They remembered well the failings
of the past.

I think many times churches would be better-blessed if they would practice the long suffering
modeled in the Bible, which is certainly much more difficult and probably more risky than
church discipline. Unfortunately, practicing patience and love doesn't remove the "immoral
brother" fast enough and doesn't set the good example for other churches that disciplining
apparently does, another important point the pastor made. Some may wonder why I bring the
church discipline issue up again. Well, for one thing, it's one of those memories that's going to
hurt for a long, long time. But that's personal.

I don't quarrel with churches' right and responsibility to enact discipline against members and
remove offenders, but I do regret that my actions and the church's reaction may well lead to
more "sinners" remaining silent about their battles with sin, rather than seeking support within
their church family. I wonder, if we walked long enough with our brothers to help them remove
the immorality, wouldn't that be a blessing for him and the church? Maybe we could do with a
little less record-keeping?
"O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O Lord, kept a
record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you, there is forgiveness; therefore you are
feared." -- Psalm 130:2-4.

Maybe a little more love for those whose sin problem probably developed from a lack thereof?

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude,
it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not
delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." -- Corinthians 13:4-6.

Maybe a little more mercy?

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion,
kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." -- Colossians 3:12.

Despite how damaging the memories others have of our actions as strugglers, the greatest harm
is probably from our own memories. That's where the wounds that want so badly to morph into
scars really fester and refuse to heal. Those "accusing memories" that tell us we can't
overcome, that we are too tangled up, that we are beyond repair, that we have blown too
many chances. We can count them. The time we did this, thought that, gave in, lied about it,
rose above it to crash right down into it. The records we keep in our minds are the greatest
resistance we have to true repentance. We have video and audio, and it's all high-def.

We sin. We confess. We repent. We lay it down. We pick it up. We internalize it. We guilt-trip
over it . . . and then we just plain trip over it. Yeah . . . we knew we would and we did. We're
losers. Remember?

No . . . we're not. Those are memories.

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all
unrighteousness." -- I John 1:9.

Morgan Cryan wrote a song that speaks to the round-house the struggler often finds himself
revolving inside, unable to find the door to freedom.
It happened so long ago
And I cried out for mercy back then.
I plead the blood of Jesus,
Begged Him to forgive my sin.
But I still can't forget it,
It just won't go away.
So I wept again, "Lord wash my sin,"
But this is all He'd say:

What sin, what sin?

Well that's as far away as the east is from the west.
What sin, what sin?
It was gone the very minute you confessed,
Buried in the sea of forgetfulness.

The heaviest thing you'll carry

Is a load of guilt and shame.
You were never meant to bear them,
So let them go in Jesus' name.
Our God is slow to anger,
Quick to forgive our sin,
So let Him put them under the blood,
Don't bring them up again.
'Cause He'll just say:

What sin, what sin?

Lord, please deliver me from my accusing memory.

Nothing makes me weep this way,
than when I hear you say,
What sin?
If you struggle with an addictive sin -- whether it is sexual, like pornography, same-sex
attraction, heterosexual attraction -- or whether it is another addictive sin, such as gambling
or drinking -- seek out a church that has a strong emphasis on assisting people in recovery. Seek
out a church whose leadership understands the need and dynamics for providing support to
those who struggle.

If you don't struggle with an addictive sin, consider working within your church to understand
and offer support and prayer for those who do. They are far better off in the church rather
than fearing it.

Memories are good things, overall. I was once a burr-headed little boy who chased toads and
fished for crawdads. I was once a young father who rocked his children at night and told them
stories. I was once a brother in a church who served and prayed and grew. All good memories,
sifted out from among the bad ones that so often overwhelm. God has loved me for a long

Maybe you need to do a little sifting of your own.

Thom --