I heard a sermon illustration years ago about goldfish. Goldfish spend all day, every day, in a bowl with nothing but colored rocks, a plastic twig, and an artificial treasure chest. But a goldfish can only remember something for about three seconds. So, he swims around in the bowl and every time he peeks around that plastic twig, he is surprised to see the treasure chest.
He says, “Oh look! A treasure chest!”
Three seconds later, “Oh look! A treasure chest!”
Three seconds later… you get the idea.
I no longer remember what the sermon was about but that illustration is engraved in my mind. And there are days when I am convinced my kids have “goldfish memories.”
You know the days.
The days where you give them a tour of the hamper and suggest for the millionth time that dirty socks would like to visit there.
The days where they ask you if they can have a piece of candy, and you ask them what you said the last time they asked, and they have no recollection of asking 2.5 minutes ago. And you’d said “yes”!
The day your sweet toddler asks for water, and you say, “May I have some waterrrr…?” With a nice pregnant pause, waiting for them to fill in that blank. Then they do.
“May I have some water … NOW!”
Goldfish memory. It’s as if they’ve never seen that treasure chest before.
And it drives. me. insane. There are days when I am overwhelmed with the impossibility of living with children with goldfish memories. It seems hopeless.
And then I remember that I forget.
I forget God has promised to be with me in the midst of the goldfish memory years. Matthew 28:20
I forget God has equipped me for the task he has called me to do. 2 Tim 3:16-17
I forget that because Christ lives in me, I have a spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Galatians 5:22-23
I forget every good gift comes down from the father of lights (James 1:17) – and children with goldfish memories are one of those gifts (Psalm 127:3).
I forget the words I say are the recording my kids will play in their heads for the rest of their lives, whether it is the commands of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:1-12) the or condemnation of their mommy.
I forget the unique opportunity I have to surprise and delight these little ones as God promises to do for me (Zephaniah 3:17-19). And because of their goldfish memory, I can do it over and over again.
I forget the grace by which I have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-9). And, I forget to extend that grace (Romans 12:10-21).
I forget humans are different than goldfish. With humans — image-bearers of God — repeated experiences lead to long term memory. They might not remember to say “thank you” the first eight million times we instruct and prompt them, but with repeated, patient instruction and prompting, we see the memory finally forms into something more solid.
I might not remember to meet their forgetfulness with patience, but with repeated, patient instructions from scripture and consistent promptings from the Holy Spirit, my memory begins to form into something more solid.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
… even with my own goldfish memory.