The room was really cold but I was sweating through my shirt. My pastor had just opened the floor to questions that would be directed to me.
I was preparing to relocate my family in a matter of days to plant a church in a new city. This was our last meeting together before I would be sent out from our sending church. The men sat looking at the floor, some at their notes, and others over at each other, waiting for someone to fire off the first question. The silence hung around for what seemed like an hour. One man, the quietest and most reserved man in the room, stared at me the entire time. It was a gentle gaze, nonthreatening. He was listening to what my body was saying. No words were being uttered, but he was listening.
The moments passed and finally someone spoke up, but he didn’t ask a question, he simply encouraged me. Someone else followed up with more encouragement. It was very kind of them to break the silence without conjuring up a question just because. The pastor started to move onto the next order of business when the one who sat staring leaned forward and asked, “Nathan, what are you afraid of?” I was ready to move on with the other agenda items now. The gentleman didn’t waver. He looked directly in my eyes across the table and waited.
I sat, pondered, and asked myself what he meant by the question. Afraid? Am I afraid? Should I be afraid? Is this Yoda looking Luke down and calling out his fear? And then I realized that I was full of fear. Seriously fearful of something that I had yet to name in my life. It wasn’t the future. It wasn’t finances. It wasn’t even the fear of failure. I fear forgetting.
If there is anything I have learned over the past two decades is that forgotten truth leads to forgotten identity, which leads to a loss of purpose and direction. Forgetting causes us to stall, gawk out the rearview window, and sit in the present distress critiquing and analyzing the past, asking why we can’t move forward. When we forget what is true we will settle for things that are false. When we forget our identity we will masquerade and rely on our false self. When we forget we can’t move forward, we can’t even coast, we’re stuck.
My greatest fear is forgetting the gospel. The gospel is the announcement of what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ to reconcile our past, meet us in the present, and secure our future. When I forget what has been done I begin to coverup my shame with my performance. When I forget that God meets me in the present, I look for lesser things to satisfy my longing for acceptance and approval. When I forget that my future is secure I fail to show up, try, take risk, and assume responsibility.
I named my fear outloud. I admitted that I was fearful of forgetting because I know what the result would be. To be radically honest with you…I have had gospel amnesia for over a year now. Many of the difficulties I currently face, not all but many, are the result of forgetting. It seems that I am starting to come to, but I must admit so much of what I have been dealing with is forgetfulness. I have lived my fear.
What is a man to do?
What counsel would I give to someone who came to me with a case of gospel amnesia?
Well, I would start by taking my cue from a gentleman who sat in a really cool room, intently watching a grown man sweat, and listen, really listen to what is going on. I would wait in the void for a bit and ask, “What do you fear?” However that question gets answered will lead us to the cause of gospel amnesia. Then I’d begin to slowly, patiently apply the remedy. Not in an assertive way, but in an attentive way. What do I mean? I would be attentive to the One present among us who is there with us in our forgetfulness. I’d point out the One who reconciles our past, who meets with us in the present, and promises to secure our future. I would try to skillfully do what the faithful have always done with those who’ve forgotten. I would bear witness to Jesus; the One who heals our deepest wounds, who drives out fear, and who meets us in the questions we won’t ask even ask ourselves.
Questions like, “What are you afraid of?”
Listen…seriously, listen. What do you fear? Have you named it? Let’s take some time to be attentive to Jesus together.