This past winter I was overseeing the filling of the baptistery one Sunday morning in preparation for a baptism service that was to happen that afternoon. As I was checking to see that all was proceeding as it should, a man from the church came up with his curious young son. He was taking the occasion to satisfy his son’s astonishment at the fact that there was a tiny swimming pool hidden in the church floor and to talk about baptism in general. I was not a part of their conversation, but one simple statement I overheard stuck with me, “See, this is where Daddy was baptized.” So simple, yet in our highly mobile society, how often are we able to point to physical reminders of past faith experiences to subsequent generations?
Time and time again throughout the history of God’s people, you see God prompting them to “build a memorial,” or to observe a particular holiday in order to create landmarks for themselves and as tools to instruct their children. This is part of God’s design for parenting.
Here in the United States we will soon observe Memorial Day, a day set aside to especially remember those people who have fallen in defense of our country and way of life. Many of us will probably spend at least some time visiting cemeteries or talking with our family members about the meaning of the day. I am blessed to live in a place where I can take my children to the city and township cemeteries where several generations of my own family are buried. We go and place flowers on the veterans tombstones and then my kids walk with us and with their grandparents and hear (again) the meaning and the stories behind the various monuments. They see the hardships of pioneer life vividly illustrated by the amount of children buried and learn a little of what it means to be part of our particular story.
As meaningful and important as I believe this to be, do I do the same for spiritual milestones? Like the young father at my church, can I point to a particular spot and say, see, right here, this is where Daddy followed Christ in baptism. Do you? Do you have that kind of history with God? Some of our histories with God are short. Don’t let that stop you from intentionally setting up “memorials.” It can be a specific place where you heard God speak to you in a particular way, maybe He lead you in a life changing decision of some kind. Maybe it’s particular day that you observe and remember from year to year on which God provided for you in a special way. Maybe it’s a particular item that you have kept with you as you have moved around, a Bible with notes or special meaning, a piece of jewelry given at your baptism or other special event, maybe an otherwise common item that only has meaning once the story is told.
Regardless, as parents and followers of Christ, we are called to be storytellers. After virtually every occasion of God’s intervention in the history and formation of His people, we see them instructed to build a physical memorial or to institute a holiday for the stated purpose of causing a conversation with their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. These were not necessarily solemn occasions, sometimes these were celebratory feasts that lasted for a week! Sometimes it was a memorial of stone; when the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River for the first time they built a memorial of stone in the river that the author of Joshua declared was “still there to this day.” Regardless of the form they took, God intends His people to have a multi-generational approach to their faith.
One potential strength, but all to often a weakness, of our American culture is that we tend to live primarily for the moment at the expense of the past and the detriment of the future. I challenge all of us to not allow our children to watch us bring this attitude to our faith and our relationship with God. Set up memorials, use them to pass on your experiences with Christ to your children in a way that a lecture never can.
Residential Program Director