The end of the year always seems to remind me that I can be a very forgetful person.
At the end of another year, as I reflect on what has happened in my life, I am often amazed at all the things that I nearly forgot about until I saw the picture or spoke to a friend. Little things like spontaneous adventures with friends and family, and bigger things like writing and presenting a thesis. These were important, special moments in my year that may have been forgotten if it weren’t for the pictures, people (and stack of books) that serve as reminders.
I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who rediscovers the joy of temporarily-forgotten memories at the end of each year. People in general tend to forget things relatively quickly. That’s why we have to-do lists and calendars and reminders set on our phones. I think it’s especially true that we tend to forget the good moments when the mundane or the difficult moments become overwhelming.
God knows this human tendency. That’s why in Joshua 4 He commands the Israelites to set up stone altar as a memory aide. In order to enter the land that God has promised them, the Israelites must cross the Jordan River. However, the river is at flood stage and is therefore impassable. God performs a miracle by stopping the river’s flow so that the Israelites can pass through. God then commands the Israelites to send one member from each tribe to retrieve a stone from the river bed and place them in the camp to be a lasting reminder of God’s miraculous provision. The stones “serve as a sign among [the Israelites]” and later “when [their] children ask ‘What do these stones mean’”, they will say “that the flow of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:6-7).
The stones are there to remind present and future generations of the moment when God acted to help Israel and to prove His faithfulness. The stones aren’t set up as a kind of idol, or even a sacrificial altar, but as a conversational piece. God wants the Israelites to remember the moment when they crossed the Jordan and to tell that story to their children, so that they will remember their story and the kind of God that they serve.
I can imagine an Israelite who struggles to believe that God will provide in his new home, but when he walks by the river and sees the stones, he is reminded that God brought him here. I can imagine children who didn’t see the miracle, struggling to understand that God is more powerful than anything. When they walk by the Jordan, their parents recount the story of the day that God made this mighty river stop. The stones are a reminder of God’s faithfulness and offer insight into the heart of God.
We could use some similar reminders in our day-to-day lives. Objects that remind us of important moments in the past. Objects that will allow us to reflect on personal and spiritual growth, allowing us to remember and more fully discover God’s character. Objects that spark conversation about your story and how it intersects with God’s story.
It could be physical objects. I have a collection of pop bottles, each from a different moment that remind me of the places I went and the people with whom I shared those drinks. The bottles remind me of times when I felt like giving up and of times when I saw God do amazing things. They remind me of God’s love, faithfulness, His sense of humor, and the ways that He has worked in and around me.
But, it doesn’t have to be physical objects. Reminders can be as intangible as setting aside a certain place, or time in the week or month to intentionally reflect on the past. This is a big part of the idea behind seasons and celebrations such as Sabbath, Passover and modern church observances of advent and lent. We set aside time to remind ourselves of God’s story and how it has impacted our own stories.
These reminders, physical or not, encourage reflection and remind us that despite the mundane and even through the difficulties, there has been (and will continue to be) hope. So, before you eagerly wave good-bye to 2018 and look for new opportunities ahead, don’t forget to remember how you got here. Set up reminders for yourself of the spontaneous adventures and the quiet moments at home.
Reminders of times when God proved His faithfulness and when you learned more about His design for you. Create ways to remind yourself of your story and share that story with others. Then when you start to get bogged down by the challenges of 2019 you will remember how far you’ve come and be encouraged to continue moving ahead.