In 2013, I miscarried my fourth pregnancy. My grief was deep and long. I could speak no words as I cried. But I had just spent time studying and memorizing James 1, and my mind was flooded with those words hidden in my heart, bringing comfort to my bleeding soul. I knew that, though the pain was real, I was going to grow in perseverance because of the trial I was enduring. My faith was strengthened because of the words that I had spent time contemplating and memorizing. When I learned that chapter of scripture, I had no idea it would carry me through dark days.
When my husband and I started memorizing scripture with our toddler a decade ago, I was shocked at how easy it was for him to remember long passages and how much harder it was for me. We started because we knew it was important for our children, but I didn’t expect to discover it is just as necessary for me.
I recently had period of 48 hours where it seemed as if everything was going wrong. A good friend of mine from church, who is blind and medically frail, called to tell me that her husband had a mental breakdown and was unaware of who and where he was. He was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with dementia, and I was trying to coordinate help for them even though I really didn’t know what to do. My six-year-old was extremely sick with a stomach virus. My toddler refused to eat for a full day. A toilet flooded our bathroom because of a mistake made by a plumber. And all this while my husband, my wise, steady rock on this earth, was in the final two days of traveling in a country plagued by instability and terrorism and couldn’t be reached.
Those were not the worst 48 hours I’ve ever had, and the troubles they contained seem trivial to the troubles of many others. But I still had to figure out what to do next and how to put one foot in front of the other. By God’s grace, I have an imagination filled up with passages of truth, beauty, and goodness that inform my heart and my mind. During those two long days, I recited Philippians 2:1-11 over and over, reminding myself to think of others first, to take on the nature of a servant, and to remember that Jesus Christ is exalted even when days are hard. When all I wanted to do was to stay in bed hiding until my husband returned home, I was encouraged by scripture to look to the example of Christ.
In classical education circles, and even amongst a lot of churches, I hear a lot about memorization for children, but I think I have benefitted more than my children in our memory work. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs of the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” I don’t know of a better way to do this for my family than by memorizing words of truth. My collection of memorized passages help me fulfill my roles as a wife, mother, teacher, and friend by being a mental river flowing with truth, beauty, and goodness. Scripture, hymns, creeds, historical passages, and poems that I’ve memorized not only have comforted my heart in hard times, but they also stir up my wonder.
The hymns that I’ve memorized give words to my worship as I’m busy with life, reminding me of a faithful God who has done glorious deeds. As I nursed my babies around the clock, exhausted from weeks and then months of sleep-deprivation, I sang “What Can Wash Away My Sins.” When I am outside in nature, I sing “How Great Thou Art” enjoying the beauty of God reflected in creation. I do chores around the house singing “To God Be the Glory” with a grateful heart for the things he has done.
Poetry has served to remind me to delight in common graces. Robert Frost’s poems help me contemplate the peace of a snow-blanketed back yard and the gift of choices when making decisions. As I watch the dancing leaves of autumn, I recite “October’s Party” by George Cooper. The hard working ants I watch crawling in a line across my driveway remind me of the poem we memorized based on Aesop’s fable. Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Block City” helps me slow down to enjoy the work of my children.
I’ve heard a lot of reasons to have memory work as a part of your school: the exposure to patterns of language and new vocabulary, the mental pegs to build upon, better reading comprehension and cognitive skills, amongst others, but those reasons don’t come even close to the richness I’ve found in my memory work. The selections I’ve memorized shape my thinking as I walk in this world and turn my heart to the true, the good, and the beautiful. These passages have captured my imagination and help me orient my heart and the hearts of my family towards God. And I don’t know of better reasons to memorize anything.