• Matthew Thornton

If Only You Knew

Matthew writes about the importance of remembrance. He writes about how it fills us with gratitude and equips us with hope as we realise, even though it may be hard to see at times, God was and is with us always.


In July, my family and I returned to South Africa for the first time since moving over to New Zealand (6 years ago). I’ve written about my experiences before and how it has shaped me as a person. So, going back was special.


It was an experience that is hard to put into words. When we landed and began to drive the streets, it was as if we had never left. Catching up with old friends, re-visiting places from my childhood, it felt as if nothing had changed.


But, at the same time, so much had changed. I’m a different person now than I was when we left. It was one of the strangest feelings I’ve experienced, and it was deeply refreshing.


You see, with each place I passed, and with each person I caught up with, a memory was invoked. I found myself reflecting and recounting experiences that have brought me to the place I am today.


Gaining clarity


There was something more profound at place than just nostalgia and sentimentality. In these acts of remembrance, I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude for God’s presence and provision in my life.

It has been immensely gratifying seeing experiences in my life connect to one another recently. I feel as if things are bearing fruit in my life after many years of growth and preparation. Especially concerning my future, I’ve gained clarity and direction. A relieving contrast from my final year at high school.


God has been revealing to me the value of experiences which I once thought were isolated and had no purpose. The metaphorical puzzle pieces are fitting together to reveal a coherent image whereas before they seemed scattered and mismatched.


It showed me that, even though at times it was hard to see, God was there every step of the way and had a plan throughout.


God’s got your back


This process revealed to me the importance of the act of remembrance. There are countless times in the Bible when God urges His people to remember what He has done for them (Isaiah chapter 44, verse 21). Or, we read stories of people filled with praise as they recount God’s goodness to them (Psalm 119, verse 55; 1 Chronicles chapter 16 verse 12).


I think God emphasizes the importance of the act of remembrance for two reasons: it invokes gratitude and equips us with hope. Gratitude as we recall God’s provision in our lives up to now. Hope as we look forward expectantly to what He will do in our lives in the future.


You see, as I walked through my old primary school, I thought about that 13-year old kid who I once was. I thought that if only you knew what was ahead of you. If only you knew what God was going to do in your life, knew the friends you make, knew the place you would be at all those years later, you wouldn’t worry so much.


Whilst you didn’t worry all the time, you would approach each day with joy, gladness and excitement because you would realise that God’s got your back.


Silence not absence


Especially during times when it feels as if God is distant, remembrance can completely alter our disposition. Often, we associate God’s silence with absence. We think that because He might not be speaking to us, it means He isn’t working. However, remembrance reminds us that isn’t the case.


As we recount moments in our life when we were lost, when we felt as if what we were experiencing had no purpose, we realise that God was working even then. Those seemingly isolated and meaningless moments had and have place and purpose and often we can only see that with hindsight.


If only you knew what God was going to do in your life, knew the friends you make, knew the place you would be at all those years later, you wouldn’t worry so much.

Remember


As Frederick Buechner puts it:


“You also are survivors and are here. And what does that tell us, our surviving? It tells us that weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far, at least to this day.”


“Foolish are we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us if not to the right path through the forest, at least to a path that leads forward, that is bearable.”


“Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive.”


“So in the room called Remember it is possible to find peace – the peace that comes from looking back and remembering to remember that thought most of the time we failed to see it, we were never really alone.” (Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat).


So, remember God. Remember the stories of the past where He has come through for you. Doing so reminds us that even when it seemed unlikely, He was still working. Even when it seemed confusing, He had purpose in mind. Even when it seemed unredeemable, He redeemed it.


Once we can embrace that faith and hope that God is with us and is working in all circumstances, we can find freedom and enjoy each revelation as it happens. Instead of being relieved that it all worked out, we can be excited because we knew it would all along, we just didn’t know how.


“Joy is knowing, even for a moment, that underneath everything are the everlasting arms” (Frederick Buechner, The Remarkable Ordinary).


Matthew Thornton is studying at the University of Auckland, Matthew finds that writing is one of the prime ways he connects with and grows closer to God. He loves seeing the way in which God has wired everyone uniquely and finds immense fulfilment in seeing others discover who God is to them. He would love to hear from you: matthewcthornton13@gmail.com // Photo: Chris Grobler


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