I recently read an article from the University of Notre Dame Psychology Department written by Aaron Smith detailing the work of Notre Dame Psychology Professor G.A. Radvansky. Radvansky has been doing some very interesting, if not glamorous, work on psychology and specifically the psychology of forgetfulness.
Radvansky was conducting various experiments in both real and virtual environments in which people performed memory tasks as they moved through a room and eventually crossed through a doorway. Remarkably, every time, passing through the doorway diminished their memories.
The research provides strong evidence that doorways and passing through doorways somehow serve as an “event boundary” that forces working memory to reboot as a result of moving into another room. This location-based updating seems to influence our memory and somehow makes it extremely difficult to recall the activities or decisions made in a different room.
“The ‘walking through doorways’ studies now show that it’s not just the amount of information coming in that matters but also the structure of experience,” he says. “When we walk from one room to another, information about people and objects that we were dealing with in the old room is less likely to be relevant, and it appears our memory machinery is optimized to take advantage of this, releasing that old information to make information about the new situation more accessible.”
But God already knew this.
When they came to the Jordan, God knew the children of Israel were crossing an “event-boundary” and that crossing into the Promised Land would serve as a doorway. That doorway would cause them to file away those memories or even forget them altogether. God made our minds and created our memory machinery. He also knew that it was imperative that memorials be created. Real, tangible, physical memorials that could serve as “touchstones” to those memories. He created feasts and rituals which were designed to help the Israelites remember through worship the things that had been done for them. He inspired storytellers and psalmists to craft tales and songs which could further help the Israelites to remember. And He instructs Joshua to create tangible, physical reminders which will help the Israelites to remember. God knows how the mind works. Things that we are just now realizing today, He has been doing throughout history.
One of the greatest things about these memorials is their ability to create “teachable moments.” By now we’ve all heard of teachable moments. We’ve all heard of those golden times when children will ask a question that leads you into an opportunity to help them learn and grow. This is not just true in parenting but also in any form of education. Any educator will tell you that they look for those moments of epiphany when everything becomes relevant in the mind of the learner
But what about in our daily lives? As we attempt to parent and train up our children, how do we locate these teachable moments? Joshua gives us an example. Here, Joshua tells the people that the memorials are created not just so that they will not forget; they are also created so that they may use these to create teachable moments with their children.
Joshua 4:20-24 (NRSV)
20 Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal,
21 saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’
23 For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over,
24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, and so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”
Joshua tells the people that here are these twelve stones. They are a reminder to you but they are also there to prompt the questioning of your children. When your children ask you what this is, this is what you will tell them. By making this memorial, we have created the opportunity of a teachable moment. As a parent, this makes me think “How am I creating memorials in my life?” Surely there are things that I can do which will prompt my children to ask questions like these. As I become more conscious of these opportunities, I will find ways to create them. If I go through life with eyes that seek reminders of God, then I will be more open to create and capitalize on them when they arise. I can also be more focused on creating opportunities for questioning.
God likes memorials. All through the journey of the Israelites, He creates memorials. Whether they be feasts or rituals, God likes to create ways to help us remember. He also creates visual stimuli which prompt those teachable questions from our children. Today in our churches we still use visual reminders which God established much the same as He did here with Joshua. In our fellowship, we partake of the Lord’s Supper or Communion every Sunday. This is a perfect example of a visual reminder that God has set up to help us remember. And if your kids are anything like mine, it’s also an opportunity to teach. When Olivia was a four year old she was obsessed with communion. She whined and cried desperately because she needs a cracker and some juice. She wasn’t old enough to really understand symbolism or to grasp the bigger concepts of communion, but she did know that this is something we do to remember Jesus. This is one of those things that didn’t need an indepth class or a lot of teaching. It’s something she has explored herself through questioning. She asked about the elements of communion or the practice. She asked all manner of things. And we tried really hard to answer all of these and capitalize on these teachable moments. I need to use that opportunity to teach rather than simply creating another time when she must sit still and be quiet during church. Allie is different. She has gone past the age of ‘I need a cracker and juice cause I’m hungry during church.’ She is old enough now to being understanding the symbolism and wonder of communion. This is still a teachable moment but on a totally different level. As she grows and continues to understand, we can teach more deeply about the meaning of communion.
The point is this:
REMEMBER AND TELL THE STORIES
We have to be people of memorials. People who live to share those stories. Tell about the amazing things that God is doing and has done. Not just in the Bible but in your life. Set up memorials, take advantage of the memorials and teachable moments that God has given you to share the story of the amazing things He has done in your life.
Maybe we need to be reminded to tell those stories. Tell about the amazing things God has done in your life. Share His glory with others as you praise Him for whatever amazing thing He has led you through.
Are you telling your story? Are you setting up memorials to allow teachable moments in your life? It’s time to find ways to share that story of God’s relationship with you.
*partially excerpted from “Choose Whom You Will Serve” by Jeff Dunn
*photo courtesy and copyright Jason Dunn