By Jaime Sherman
Our nation’s capital is home to hundreds of rock-hewn memorials and monuments that ask its 25 million visitors annually to pause between photo ops and hot dog stands to remember. To remember the military conflicts that threatened our country’s freedom. To remember the men and women who sacrificed their time, and in many cases, their lives to ensure the life and freedom of our nation. The memorials range in size from 500 feet to smaller plaques tucked inside halls of power, and each one tells a story meant to be repeated from generation to generation.
When my husband and I visited Washington, D.C., this fall, we stood in the dark of night inside a marble temple, staring up at the 19-foot-tall, dimly lit statue of President Abraham Lincoln. Then we turned to look across the National Mall to the Reflecting Pool, to the sky-scraping Washington Monument and to the glimmering U.S. Capitol building in the distance.
A nighttime glimpse of the must-sees of D.C. brought awe at the grandeur of man’s creativity, but it wasn’t until we strolled the roads of Arlington National Cemetery that we paused to truly remember, to look past man actions to God’s sovereignty in our country’s history.
In the hush fallen long over more than 400,000 memorial stones set since the Civil War, we reflected on the loss of life, on man’s devotion to his country, and on God’s promise to right every wrong in the end. It’s incredible to stand alongside grand, larger-than-life memorials, but they tend to set one’s eye on those exalted on pedestals or on the architects who sculpted the rocks. In many ways, the simple marble headstones lined one after another at Arlington helped point us to God’s power over man’s conflicts far better than the grand ones.
As we see in the book of Joshua, men hauled rocks from the Jordan, not to be shaped by man or erected to honor man, but as unpolished reminders of the works of the Lord. They were meant to spur conversation and remembrance from generation to generation, “a memorial forever.” In essence, all eyes were to be focused on God.
And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”Joshua 4:20-22
Later when Joshua engraved God’s law onto stones (chapter 8), the etchings didn’t speak of the artist or of sinful man but of God’s unfailing love and plan for His people. While manmade memorials help us remember the past, the Word of God is the ultimate memorial rock on which we are to meditate day and night, “so that we may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then we will make our way prosperous, and then we will have good success” (Joshua 1:8).
Standing in the stillness of Arlington, I thought about the memorials I erect in my own life and was challenged to evaluate whether the ones I place there, or allow others to set up for me, point to the Lord and His goodness or to myself. When my children ask about the small and the big “stones” in our family’s life, I want to have a ready answer that keeps all eyes on Jesus even if the rocks in our lives have been heavy and painful. I want them to see that God has never abandoned us. He was always — and will always — be with us. When my family and friends gather around the Thanksgiving table in the coming days, I want us to record our gratitude in such a way that God’s goodness in the mundane, messiness of life is not forgotten alongside the picture-perfect moments we tend to think of first.
The stones from the Jordan point to a God who could do the miraculous when He chose but even more so to the One who is always with His people as they faithfully get up each day to face the everyday “battles” of life. The Israelites needed those 12 stones from the Jordan to remember. We need similar “stones,” or we will forget.
Today we are a culture driven to remember, to take note of what happened yesterday and what we must not forget today. We carry smart phones and wear even smarter watches that are good gifts and help us remember where and when to go, what to do and for whom to take time, but they can distract our eyes from Jesus. We use them to pour over “perfect” Instagram snapshots that capture a time, a place, a feeling. We attempt to pile up wealth in bank accounts to memorialize hard work and money smarts. We collect things that remind us of happier times real or imagined, and in so doing, we often forget that ultimate joy and fulfillment is found in the Lord and Him alone. In Him we are able to pile up rocks from the Jordan to remain as memorials forever.
Will you join me in the coming weeks as we linger in habits of gratitude? I challenge you to consider your heart before the communion table. Choose to view tithes and offerings as a form of worship rather than as a rote habit. Slow down enough to transfer head knowledge about God’s Word deep into your soul and make it the ultimate memorial in your life. As I set the table for my family this Thanksgiving, I’m going to find imperfect stones to pile up in the center of the table — one for each of us — and when my children ask, “What are these for?” I will declare God’s goodness and faithfulness past, present and future in and through each one of us.
I would love to hear how you plan to “linger in habits of gratitude” this month. You can message me here to share your ideas or leave a message below.