I have never worked very hard on memorizing. With varying degrees of memory success, I have carried around little Bible memory cards and even worked on long passages of scripture. In high school, I memorized Macbeth’s speech about the petty pace that creeps on. And I have also memorized untold volumes of useless content in the form of advertising jingles and sitcom title sequences. “Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more…”
I have the capacity to memorize. It happens even without effort. However, I have operated under a flawed understanding of memory. Until very recently, I have thought of my memory capacity as similar to an electronic music player. Memory is limited, so I must be careful what I store. My seventeen-year-old daughter recently spent hours carefully deleting photos and music from her uncomfortably cramped eight-gig iPod. In order to add more music, she had to delete something.
That is how I thought of my brain. I could not afford to memorize unworthy data. My finite memory capacity is too precious to waste. This is a perfectly reasonable conclusion—given my assumptions—and it serves as a convenient excuse for not memorizing.
Then one day, my wife casually noted that our daughter is very good at memorizing. She can master another thirty lines of Shakespeare without breaking a sweat. Time and time again she learns new passages. She is good at it and she does not have to delete anything in her memory bank before learning something new.
Suddenly, all the pep talks about the “memory muscle” made sense to me. The more you use it, the better it performs. The muscle analogy really speaks to me. I train for triathlons so I can finish with better times. If my muscles only had a finite number of contractions in a lifetime, then I would train by sitting still, saving my energy for the race. Obviously, strength and endurance increase with exertion. I also know that training for a race is merely an excuse to train. I want to take care of my body. When I feel fit, I can climb stairs, split wood, clear brush, carry Christmas trees, and throw snowballs with ease. My training is about living better, not competing better. I want to stay in shape so my strength is there when I need it.
I run around the neighborhood to improve my time and my fitness. The transportation of my exercise is irrelevant. Similarly, memory work trains the mind, regardless of the content. I need to love God with all my mind by keeping it in shape. I can memorize just for the mental exercise, but I can also fill my mind with beauty, goodness, and truth. Or I can spend my memory effort on Geico ads. Fifteen minutes could fill my mind with something beneficial or something empty.
Memory work requires mental sweat. It takes time. It is not easy. However, when I need to learn something quickly and thoroughly, I want to be in mental shape. The more I memorize, the more I can memorize.
Without knowing it, my daughter has inspired me to work on memorizing. And I can do it without any more gigabytes.