I have an odd collection of objects that are very special to me — an empty aluminum package that once contained ground coffee, a small white rock, three golf tees, an inexpensive digital wristwatch that is scratched and discolored. One might think that my collection is stuff that needs to be discarded, but each object holds memories for me of significant moments or time spent with people I love.
Many of these objects reside in a piece of pottery in my home. Often in passing I will pause, select one, and hold it in my hand for a few seconds. I take a moment to dwell in the memory associated with the object before putting it back in its place. My collection contains some of my most valued possessions, not because they are worth much monetarily but because they are so closely tied with rich memories and people who are important to me.
When I look through my collection, I am reminded of a story in which Samuel constructed a memorial after God saved the Israelites from the Philistines: “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (1 Sam. 7:12, NIV). The purpose of the memorial was to remind the Israelites of God’s help and faithfulness. I have come to think of each object in my collection as a kind of Ebenezer, a reminder of one of the many ways that God has been faithful to me — the gift of a good friend, time spent with family, or time spent in solitude in nature, to name only a few.
This story from Samuel reminds me of the importance of recalling God’s faithfulness in the past because those memories can shape the present. When I remember God’s help in the past, I am encouraged and sustained here and now, especially when God feels distant or silent.
I now have a regular discipline of keeping a running mental list of all the Ebenezers in my life. This has been particularly helpful in challenging times or when I’m just feeling burned out, bored, or irritable. I take a moment to pause and recite all the things for which I am grateful — people in my life, fun and memorable experiences, whatever comes to mind. I spend time dwelling in this mental collection in much the same way I do with the objects in my piece of pottery.
Often the beginning of a new year is a time to look forward, to set goals and make plans. But this year instead of only looking forward, I am going to be intentional about also looking back and reflecting on all the ways God has been faithful to me over the past year. I invite you to take some time to do the same. Whether you start a physical list or keep a mental one or begin your own collection of objects, my hope for you is that your life is replete with signs of God’s faithfulness. I hope too that what has been true for me is also true for you — that the more you look for those signs, the more you are able to find.
1. What practices or disciplines remind you of and help you reflect on God’s faithfulness to you?
2. Why is it important that we remember the ways that God has been faithful to us? Name a time when remembering God’s faithfulness has changed your attitude about a situation.
3. What other examples in scripture can you think of where a person or group made a memorial as a reminder of God’s help?
I looked forward to each session of the 2021 Spiritual Formation in Today’s World, and I still consider it a sacred time in my life. It renewed my love for myself, strengthened my love for God, and inspired my love for others.” Read more...