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Cramming for Life

October 28th, 2008

Focus Text: Proverbs 7: 3 (NLT)

3 Tie them on your fingers as a reminder.
      Write them deep within your heart.


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

I like to think that I have a good memory.  I’ve always been told that I do.  As far as academic information goes, anything that required simple memorization was usually a cinch for me.  I hate to admit it, but in college there were certain classes whose textbooks never lost their shrink wrap.  Somehow, though, I still made decent grades in them.  The secret?  Cramming.

Now, I am by no means endorsing the art of cramming . . . and make no mistake, it is an art form.  It does not work well for most people; but for those with a propensity for memorization, cramming can really be a useful tool.  As a former teacher, you may be shocked that I would say such a thing.  Let me establish a few conditions first.  Without these being met, I say forget the cramming.

First of all, you should only cram in classes that you are absolutely, positively sure will never affect your future career.  For example, I took a History of Jazz class in college that was quite interesting, but was certainly not a subject I was going to use after college except for simple knowledge and the occasional recognition of a Miles Davis song.  My United States History classes, however, demanded a bit more of my attention since I would end up teaching that particular subject later on in life.

Secondly, you can only cram in subjects that are more fact-based instead of requiring the working out of complex problems.  For example, you can memorize the Pythagorean Theorem all day long, but if you never practice working out actual problems that require its use, you will no doubt fail the exam miserably.  

Thirdly, I only recommend a good cram session when one has listened well in class and has taken good notes.  Otherwise, you don’t really know what you’re cramming into your noggin.  It never ceases to amaze me how students often don’t grasp the value of paying attention.  It’s more important than the assigned reading.  It’s more important than the homework.  It’s more important because it’s entails listening to the exact words of the teacher who is going to personally design the exam and decide what grade you’re going to receive.  When you listen to them, you consciously and subconsciously retain information that is pertinent to comprehending their expectations for the course.

If these conditions are met, then I say cram away!  The human mind is like a closet.  Some closets are clean and organized and some are cluttered and crowded.  And just like a closet, just because something enters your brain doesn’t mean that it will necessarily ever come out again.  Like the mysterious match to the sock you’re searching for, some things that are committed to memory can be lost forever within the recesses of your mind.  If you want to memorize something, you must know where to put it and the method by which it can be retrieved again.

There are certain methods that assist with memory.  Mnemonic devices or acronyms sometimes help.  I was the king of acrostics.  Acrostics are words or phrases created to remind someone of the first letter of the content they are trying to remember.  For example, I might memorize the sentence, “Washington Always Just Makes Messes” to help remember the first five presidents of the United States.  Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe.  Nice . . . still got it!

Taste and smell are also tied to memory.  I can randomly smell a certain odor and be transported back in my mind to my childhood.  The smell of creamed corn always takes me back to my great-grandfather’s house.  Taste has the same effect.  That’s why during my ACT refresher sessions that I have my students study with peppermints in their mouths and then take the test with peppermints as well.  The hope is that something they’ve memorized while tasting the first peppermint will resurface again when they taste the second peppermint.  Simple trick, really.

Every cramming and memorization method that has been devised by mankind reflects a hidden truth: we are forgetful.  We forget birthdays, so we email ourselves reminders on our computer calendars.  We forget our keys, so we install hooks in our houses to hang them on to decrease the odds of locking ourselves out of the house.  We forget everything from recipes to homework assignments to anniversaries to proof of insurance cards to deodorant . . . some items of forgetfulness have greater consequences than others.

Simply put, if we don’t give our memories assistance, then most items will be lost somewhere in the cluttered closets of our minds.  The same principle rings true for those items of spiritual importance.  Never underestimate the short time period that it takes to seemingly forget what God has done for you.  One minute, you’re certain and full of joy in what He has spoken into your life; the next minute, you’re falling fast and desperately trying to recall what it was that had given you such fulfillment before.  Was it real? Sure it was.  We just forget.

Hence, we encounter another truth from Solomon’s divinely-inspired wisdom: “Tie them on your fingers as a reminder.  Write them deep within your heart.”  In other words, take that which God has spoken and leave yourself reminders so that when the day comes that you’ve completely forgotten it, you’ll be able to find your way back to His will for your life.  It reminds me of Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black II when he has his memory erased, but leaves himself an intricate series of clues to lead him back if he ever has need to remember.

Such is also true for us.  Take what God has said and write it down.  Put it on your desktop.  Write a song about it, record it, and put it on your iPod.  Hang it on your mirror.  Write yourself a note that captures the moment of truth so that when emotions, circumstances, and the natural memory loss that we all face comes your way, you’ll have an accurate record of who you are and who you are supposed to be.

Consider this your permission to “cram” in your walk with God.  Do whatever it takes to keep His wisdom close to your heart . . . “deep within your heart.”


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