For years, I have lamented my bad memory.
I have wanted specifically to memorize Scripture but it was such a struggle. I tried and tried but just couldn’t get the Word into my mind as easily as I once did. I assumed that the problem was rooted in the fact that I was getting older and my brain simply didn’t work as well as it used to.
… and then I played one of the lead roles in our church’s Christmas musical this past weekend.
To say that I had to memorize a TON of lines was an understatement. In the Production Manual we received at our first practice a few months ago, it says that Mr. Wiseman (my character) “has 58 spoken lines, one monologue, two solos, a handful of sung lines, and one duet with Megan.”
To give you an idea of how many lines I had to memorize, the following two pages are a few of my lines and the monologue (my lines are in yellow). There are about 50 others lines and the songs not pictured here.
When I initially looked at all of the lines and was then told that the words were not going to be put on prompters, I panicked.
“I can’t memorize all of that!”
Or so I thought.
As the stage has now been disassembled and the props put away, I am celebrating the fact that the Lord enabled me to memorize every single line.
So, I want to write down a few of the lessons I learned about memorization. They are lessons that I wholeheartedly believe in because they worked! And I suspect they will work for you, too.
Break it down into small sections
Don’t memorize the whole thing at once. You will be overwhelmed and will give up almost as quickly as you started.
Instead, determine to memorize short sections. Maybe decide to memorize a verse a day or a verse every two days. And then just focus on that one verse. Don’t worry about the rest that you want to memorize. You’ll get to the other verses later.
Develop a plan with a specific deadline in mind
For instance, if you want to memorize Ephesians 1, you will need to reflectively consider how long it might take you to realistically memorize the chapter. There are 23 verses in chapter 1 so that would take 46 days if you memorized 1 verse every 2 days.
So, get a calendar and mark the day on which you want to have the chapter memorized (46 days from today). To hold you accountable, tell your spouse or your other family members that you want to recite Ephesians 1 on that specific day.
Now that you have accountability, work the plan. Begin working on 1 verse every day or two.
Say it over and over
There’s nothing like rote memorization. Just saying something over and over and over. It creates pathways in our brain that helps us remember things.
So, look at the page and read it word for word. Then go back to the beginning and try to look up, away from the page, for a few words at a time. Keep going back to re-read the passage until you are not looking at the page.
Get as many senses involved as possible
As you say the lines over and over, work to get as many of your senses involved as possible.
Say the verse(s) out loud so that you hear yourself speaking. I did this quite a bit! Whenever I would take ministry trips to Nashville or Paducah, that meant I would spend at least an hour in the car both ways. So I would take my book and recite my lines out loud, looking at the page as little as possible. I also tried to recite it with passion – the higher my heart rate and the more engaged my emotions were, the more readily my mind seemed to embrace the task of memorizing.
Write out the verse … over and over.
If you have access to an app or a website that can read the verse(s) to you, do it.
Whatever you can do to engage as many senses as possible, do it.
Develop cues that connect the content
If you just say the words over and over, it may be a struggle to memorize because its just a bunch of words.
The monologue above would have been impossible to memorize if I hadn’t developed connecting cues. I won’t elaborate on the connectors I made in my mind but I was able, with my mind’s eye, to see how each sentence led to the next. After a few weeks, all I needed was to get started and I knew that my mind would be able to say every line, every word.
So don’t just see a verse as a bunch of words. Ask yourself what is being said. Let the words come to life in your mind and see how one thought leads to the next.
Use your imagination to role-play with the content
As I memorized my lines, I imagined in my mind’s eye that I was Mr. Wiseman. I imagined that the character that I would be portraying was saying them through me. The words on the page became more than just words – they became the venue through which my character was able to express himself. This gave meaning to every word I had to memorize which made the task of memorization so much easier.
Memorizing scripture can be just like this! If you are trying to memorize one of the apostle Paul’s letters, imagine that you are him. Imagine pacing back and forth across the floor as you dictate your letter to the one writing it. See the logical flow of what he is saying. Listen to his heartbeat as he cares for the people he is writing to. All of this and more will enable you to memorize the Scripture so much more easily.
Will memorizing Scripture be easy? Probably not. In fact, it may be incredibly difficult to get started.
But from my experience, from someone who honestly felt my memory was going bad, I can testify that you can do just about anything you set your mind to. The question becomes whether or not you value God’s Word enough to memorize it.
Because I’m convinced that if you love God’s Word enough, you’re going to hide it in your heart.