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When People Forget You--and Other Deflating Events

I had a very humbling experience last week when I was invited to the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet at a local Retirement Village. I received the invited because, for nearly a year now, I’ve visited the center once a month to sing and tell Bible stories to the residents.

Most of the residents are women in their 70s, 80s, and even 90s, and it has been a long time since I’ve found people so genuinely appreciative of my singing. Whether I’m singing an old hymn or a ballad by Elvis, the women clearly love me there. I’m sure they check their calendar each month, counting the days until I return. And if I had posters available showing me with my guitar, many of them would undoubtedly hang them in their room.

This is all background information to help you understand why the Volunteer Appreciation Banquet was such a humbling experience for me.

The banquet was attended by an assortment of people: other volunteers, staff members, and a few residents as well. I was especially happy to see that some residents had come (I always enjoy interacting with my fans, after all).

I approached one of the residents, named Lillian, who had a big smile on her face. Wow, she is really glad to see me, I thought to myself.  

So I sat next to Lillian and told her I’ve missed coming and singing for a few weeks now. I wasn’t prepared for her reply.

“I don’t remember you singing here,” she said quite seriously. “In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.”

Lillian was sitting next to a resident named Ruth, who had been listening to our conversation. Ruth was another of my fans, and I looked toward her in hopes of getting some reassurance.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sing either,” she informed me.

How deflating. Two of those I considered my biggest fans didn’t even remember me.

I was crushed.

Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. It probably wasn’t connected with the memory loss of residents in a nursing home. Your experience may have been much more painful than that, when people you had loved and poured your life into seemed to forget you even existed.

There are many possible lessons from my story, but here are just a few:

  • Sometimes people WILL forget the acts of kindness we have done for them, but God never will. Hebrews 6:10 assures us: God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” So, in light of that fact, does it really matter if people forget what we have done? God is keeping a record of it all.
  • When people fail to remember us or show us gratitude, our true motives get tested. Did we only do our good deeds in hopes of receiving people’s thanks or applause? Or were we willing to bless the people even if we got absolutely no credit or appreciation?
  • Experiences like this are an excellent opportunity to forgive. Of course, it was pretty easy for me to forgive Lillian and Ruth for forgetting me. Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible thing, and there’s a good chance Lillian and Ruth are starting to not even recognize their own loved ones. But forgiveness is much harder when the person who has forgotten you is of sound mind, but is simply too caught up in their own activities to acknowledge you, especially during the holidays.

In the final analysis, my experience at the Retirement Village Appreciation Banquet was just another example of God’s sense of humor and His ability to deal with our pride and other blind spots. Yes, I was humbled, but the Lord probably was laughing the entire time. He knew I had developed an overinflated view of my own importance, and He was more than happy to let out some of the air.

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