My grandmother had an outside well — no indoor water — and it was a shallow well. My tendency was to let her fly when it came to fetching water. I’d drop that long slender galvanized tube into the well like it came out of the bottom of a WWII boomer plane. This would stir up the mud and change the taste of the water. It added grit you could not get clear of and that sense you were drinking cold chocolate water with that delectable floating brown color.
One of the best things you can do is to learn to forget. This is hard to do for a very good reason. Once an idea gets into your head, it is like it grows physical roots down to the nerves. To forget can be like turning a ship. You have to keep it moving against the force of the current. You have to throttle it up as the waves try to push you back. This is tricky when it comes to thoughts. It can take a lot of practice.
The problem is that our mind becomes fixated on thinking about the very thing we are focused on forgetting. The effort it takes not to focus requires focus. The harder we try to ignore our effort to forget, the more we think about it thus binding it to the memory. Something the Apostle Paul said about our inability to be perfect might be helpful to lick this problem.
“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way” (Philippians 3:12-15a).
Paul ties “forgetting” to “reaching”. He muddies up “forgetting” by adding something else. Like taking a bitter herb and putting it into a soup. “Forgetting” becomes something else when you add “reaching”. It becomes “pursuing”. “Pursuing” is the soup.
It really comes down to answering the question, “Who am I?” That is what Paul is asking. He is describing his answer in these verses and their context (verses 4-21). He has been giving testimony about who he is. He is concerned with the question, “Who am I?” This is the secret to forgetting.
Before the Christian theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung from a rope by the neck on Hitler’s orders, he sat thinking as he watched the gallows through the bars of his cell window. He asked himself this same question: “Who am I” and wrote a poem by that title (Letters from Prison). He asked himself if he were a person of one kind or the other kind in a comparison he set up between what he could have called the Bonhoeffer he would like verses the one he did not like. He had thoughts that ran through his mind that fit both versions of himself.
It really comes down to the choice about deciding who I am. When an idea you don’t like comes into your thoughts, dispute those thoughts and then switch to the question that is really the one that matters. Remind yourself who you really are. “That’s not me!” I am the one who is reaching for the goal. So no matter how slow the ship turns, it will turn. “Pursuing” is who I am. That is what defines me — not fleeting thoughts that do not fit me. I am defined by where I am headed. I am defined by what I am pursuing; and I am in possession of that promise already. I am defined by the progress I have already made in who I am becoming. And remember that you are not alone in this striving for the goal. You have been taken hold of by Jesus.