I had the privilege of joining our high schoolers on the trip to the Dominican Republic this summer. What an incredible experience! I had so many takeaways from my time, but one thing I experienced so clearly is the beauty of the Church. The global church is something I haven’t had much opportunity to see in such a tangible way before. Situated right here in the middle of the country, it’s so easy to equate the-big-C-church with the American church and forget the diverse expression of the Body of Christ. I am so thankful for the chance to expand my understanding more fully, to glimpse the beauty of our worldwide church family.
We began our week visiting a house church in Santo Domingo. Anna opened her home to us, and we more than doubled the size of their church that evening. The folding chairs multiplied like loaves and fishes as we all squeezed into her patio along with Napoleon and his family, Anna’s sister, Abuela, Gordy, and Bear. Anna led the majority of the service in English, and Nicole translated for us during discussion time so we could all understand one another. While the church service was so foreign in some ways, it was also so familiar. Communion bookended our time together; we took the bread at the beginning and closed the service with the wine. We sang familiar worship songs, and in between shared a meal. These “strangers” are our family. We have all been adopted by the same Father. These people we had not ever met are our brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmothers. We share the same spirit and we could feel it. What a beautiful foretaste of heaven!
Every day our group headed to a university in Santo Domingo to attend English immersion classes and help the students work on their pronunciation and grammar. Every day we packed our lunches and got there an hour before class to have conversations with the students. Tons of students came to talk with us. It was such a joy to make new Dominican friends, hear some of their stories, share some of ours, and the reason for our hope in Christ.
One particular conversation really stuck with me. A woman came and sat on a bench next to me and we started talking. It quickly became apparent that I knew more Spanish than she knew English, and I do not speak much Spanish! But somehow we were able to semi-understand each other. She said that her 18-year-old daughter was a student at the university and each day this mother would walk her daughter to school. Somehow our “conversation” turned to faith and she said something along the lines of “El Dios es primero.” Forgive me Spanish speakers for my limited vocabulary and faulty memory, but it roughly means “God is first.” I agreed with her and we spoke of our love for God. I don’t even know her name but I just teared up and said “hermanas,” sisters. This woman, who I had never met and will most likely never meet again on this side of heaven, is my sister. Our day to day lives are so different, we could barely understand each other, and she is my sister. Someday we will stand before the throne together and worship.
Later on in the week we went out to dinner and I was not feeling well. Anna from the house church and her family joined us. When Anna realized how I felt, she offered to take me back to her house and care for me until I felt better. And she meant it! She was willing to take a basically total stranger home, a sick stranger at that, and care for me. Because while we are strangers, we are also family! I didn’t take her up on her kind offer, and was feeling better the next day.
This experience with the Church got me thinking about my local church family and what it means to be family to those I see Sunday after Sunday. Sometimes it takes a shift in perspective to see what is right in front of you or be reminded of what is right in front of you. The people sitting in the worship center with me on a Sunday morning are my sisters and my brothers. In a very real sense.
The New Testament is full of references to believers as family, and when those words were penned, your survival depended on your extended family. Everyone had to pitch in and work for the family to survive. Which really made me think about how I am caring for the people in my church. What have I sacrificed for their good? Am I willing to take a sick sister into my home and care for them?
And, how are we all using our gifts and talents for the benefit and building up of the church? How are we meeting physical needs, spiritual, emotional? Letting others know of our needs so that they can be met? God has created each one of us uniquely and together we are the body of Christ.
The big C church and the little C church needs all of us. It’s not meant to be a place where we spend an hour on Sunday and then go about our business. It is a family and we need each other.
“Did you know we have ancestors from France?”
Before I could say anything in response, my family member was on Google earth exploring the countryside of France pondering what this means for her and our family.
She was searching, but for what?
Searching for who we are
Maybe you or a relative has gone through this process. In a world filled with uncertainty, we long for rootedness. We long for history. We long to belong. This is partly why DNA and ancestry services are exploding. Our anxious world is seeking to know who we are.
But like a mirage, when facts and figures land in our hands, it still doesn’t fulfill that deep thirst. This is because we don’t just want to know our history and get the nuts and bolts of the where/when/what. We want to hear stories about our people and find out something specific about why we are who we are today.
We want to learn, grow and not feel so alone. But to do that, we need to go further back than a few centuries. We need to go back a few millennia to the stories of our faith family in Scripture.
As Christians, we come to the Scriptures with the belief that God is telling a story that is true and relevant to life today although it is anchored in history. This informs why we come to Scripture looking for answers. We come seeking guidance, but what we may miss is that it is here that we also find belonging.
The role of storied memory
Imagine an oral culture, which is the primary context when Scripture was recorded, and the primary mode of communication is story. In a collective society, it is these stories of God’s people that shaped not only their understanding but also their identity. Under the stars around the fire Grandma or Grandpa, the keeper of the stories, would tell of Joseph and his envious brothers, Moses parting the Red Sea, or David being anointed by Samuel.
In these stories, generation upon generation not only learned about their ancestors, but they learned about who they were. They would understand “this is how we do things as God’s people,” and simultaneously embody hatred of practices that went against “who they were.” The stories of God working through their ancestors helped them make sense of what God was doing among them as His people in the present.
Remembering is NOT an option
This is why the most common command in all of scripture is NOT: “fear not” or “love your neighbor.” While both are crucial, the most common command is to “remember,” because in these stories recorded and passed down for generations, we find belonging and behavior that is in accordance with being God’s people.
Since all of Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for our growth and maturity (2 Timothy 3:16-17), that means when we forget our family — or when the stories of God’s people throughout Scripture escape our imagination — we forget a portion of ourselves. We forget who we are supposed to be today.
Therefore what we need on our journey toward wholeness is less akin to a baby shower or a birthday where both celebrations have their eyes set forward. Rather we need something more akin to Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday, that looks back and remembers our ancestors of the faith to see how their stories continue to speak into who we are, and connect with us today.
Rewards of remembering
In our Forgotten Family series, we’ll explore overlooked stories in Scripture. But this isn’t just for Bible knowledge. Studying some of the forgotten stories of our faith family will provide at least three assurances:
- We’re not the first. When we hear stories of our faith family who have gone before us, we rest assured that we aren’t the “first” of God’s people to face challenges in our faith (1 Corinthians 10:11). The Christian life is a path worn by many who have walked before us.
- We’re not alone. As we remember stories of forgotten family, it’s a reminder that we are not “alone” in our battles. There is a beautiful mystery of those who have lived, died and are with Christ, who also make up this great cloud of witnesses cheering us on in our faith (Hebrews 12:1). We aren’t the first to walk this way, and we aren’t alone.
- We’re not without guidance. By listening to stories of our faith family with God’s commentary in Scripture, we gain clarity in understanding “who we are” and thus greater understanding of how we as “God’s people live out who we are in various circumstances.”
The more we learn about those who went before us, the more we understand how our family history is a window into who we are today. When we forget our roots, we are less equipped to bring our whole selves to the opportunities and challenges of our lives.
We long to have a more secure identity in our good God, and for that we need to remember who we are as God’s people on a deeper level. Our hope is that you don’t just join us as we remember what God has done before, but that in remembering, we better understand together who we are and join in how He is continuing to work through us today!
My wife and I had the strangest experience the other day. We looked at our calendars and realized that the next two weeks were booked solid. We knew then and there that we needed to make some decisions.
As vaccines have become more readily available, the positivity rate has decreased, people have made safe practices a part of their social gatherings, and more and more people are slowly re-engaging life in public.
And that means one thing: busyness is eager to take over again.
Whether it’s playdates, sports, dinner with friends, Bible studies, grocery shopping, and the like, as the weather warms up and the world reopens, busyness is ready to fill the void. Before COVID hit, the most common response from people when you asked them how they were doing was, “Busy.” That is one form of normal I’m not eager to re-engage.
Here’s the good news: we don’t have to return to that life.
As Christians we are to be a people of work and rest, (Genesis 1-2) redeeming the time (Ephesians 5:16) as good stewards. While having a full calendar isn’t wrong, we are encouraged to leverage the time with which we’ve been entrusted to further Jesus’ purposes with healthy, humanizing rhythms. This is how God designed us, and therefore, it’s part of God’s plan for our flourishing.
Here are five tips to wisely re-engage a reopening world.
1. Schedule Quarantine Favorites
You don’t have to say “yes” to everything that was before. One of the gifts of this last year is the opportunity to make significant adjustments to how you fill your calendar and the values that shape your life.
Two quarantine favorites for me were grace blocks and dates in our backyard.
A grace block is a pocket of time in each day where you schedule nothing. Yes, nothing. It’s a space that allows other projects you’d underestimated to spill over, and so give yourself grace in the form of margin to finish out without stressing out. For me, I block about an hour a day for a grace block. It’s so helpful to recognize I can’t foresee everything, but I can predict my finitude and need for grace. Grace blocks are something I’m holding onto in my calendar.
Next, my wife Allie and I discovered we love date nights in the backyard. Before we used to stress about trying to get out of the house, organize a babysitter, and get back before too late. Now, we can put our kids to bed and sit under the stars in the city in our backyard with a glass of wine and talk for hours. Who knew date night was so easy?
I know for some of you these seem rudimentary, but that’s the point. What are 2-3 good things that have made it onto your calendar during COVID and quarantine that you want to keep? Schedule your quarantine favorites going forward.
2. Keep Going Deep with a Few
In a world of endless Facebook friends and Twitter followers, one of the greatest insights I received in college was the encouragement to cultivate a few close friendships. This became a necessity as our COVID circles grew smaller and our relationships with a few folks went deeper.
As everything opens up again, you don’t have to sacrifice the newfound depth you’ve found in the relationships around you. You don’t have to say “yes” to everyone, but be sure you have reserved the time and space for those relationships that are especially meaningful and life-giving.
I have absolutely LOVED the amount of family time I’ve been able to have with my wife and kids this last year. We’ve locked down some rhythms that are high points in my week, and I have them on my calendar now so I keep time reserved for these very important people.
Now, as things open, if you want to still go deep but also expand your relational horizons, it wouldn’t hurt to add just one more chair to a deep group of friends. Who says you can’t have it all? A new friend and deep ongoing relationships. Add one more person at a time to the social circle, and who knows what could happen?
3. Continue the Creativity
You don’t have to follow the predetermined path laid out by our consumerist culture before the pandemic. I’m all about going out to eat at local restaurants and traveling the continental United States, but you don’t have to spend a ton to continue to connect with others and have fun.
Find hiking trails with family and friends, go on picnics at one of our city’s green spaces, or pull out those board games for an afternoon in the park. These are exceptional avenues for fun.
My family is excited about Parkopalooza. Now I did not make this up, I’m stealing it. But the idea is that you spend an afternoon visiting parks across our city.
- Do a little research. You can drive around to various parks or look online. Are there some with hidden playgrounds or unique fun setups?
- Map it out. Plan how much time you have to spend and how much time you want to spend at each park.
- Hit it hard. Run, slide, jump and swing at the planned park for the allotted time. Then, no matter how much fun you’re having, go to the next. It’s an adventure after all! Part of the fun is just exploring the new parks.
Parkpalooza is just one example of creative fun in the sun. Keep exploring and trying new ideas.
4. Remain Adaptable
As much as Zoom calls may wane from their prominence, flexibility, patience, and empathy aren’t going anywhere. If anything, as all of our tanks are running low after a year of high adaptability, these Christlike traits are going to be more important than ever.
So as the travel bug or the desire to re-engage in the world creeps in, remain adaptable. As Christians, we of all people know that we are to hold our plans loosely. God is in control, not us, and so whenever we make plans, we entrust them to the Lord (James 4:15). This posture keeps us patient and flexible.
As I dream about the faithful presence of the church in the coming years, one of my hopes and desires is that we make adaptability and patience a part of the forever new normal for us! The posture of patience, grace and gentleness is the Christian calling, not a COVID pastime.
5. Prioritize Giving of Yourself with Others
Andy Crouch, Christian author and speaker who has brilliantly been spot-on throughout the pandemic, has been looking back to help us look forward. What does he notice? After the Spanish Flu of 1918, we had the roaring twenties. People were tired of being cooped up. They just wanted to party already, and frankly, that wasn’t a high point for the church.
I think Andy Crouch is on to something in that one of the greatest temptations that awaits us in these next couple of years is to get out and LIVE life to the fullest! By that I mean, we may be tempted to indulge our desires, give in to our every whim, and let our appetites and wants guide our lives now that we’ve been unleashed.
Nothing could be further from what we see in Jesus and our calling to follow Him.
Rather, what would it look like to GIVE life to its fullest?
What would it look like if as restrictions decrease, we leveraged that empowerment to take on the posture of servants? The basin and towel has always been a marker of the follower of Jesus, and maybe as things reopen we should prioritize giving of ourselves rather than treating ourselves.
That may mean a different posture at work, an area of repentance at home, continued patience with your church, engaging in a blood drive in your community, serving at your church (which means returning to your church in person), or donating time toward serving with a ministry partner (find our list here). While the what is unique to you, this calling isn’t.
Don’t let life grow like a weed, or it will take over. Redeem the time and be intentional, and decide ahead of time how you will re-engage a reopening world.
Who knows how this year will impact the next season of your life? Be wise. Be a good steward. It’s not just your calendar. It’s your life. And remember it actually is His.
Guest Author: Ashtyn Fair
I never expected to openly talk about our story until we were on the other side. I had hoped it would never even be our story in the first place. I remember being seven months into our journey and thinking “Surely we won’t hit a year.” I remember being a year in and thinking, “Surely we won’t hit two years.” Now I sit here at two years, and Taylor and I are still longing for God to give us our first child. And still I think, “Surely God will do it this year.”
What about you? What has your path to parenthood felt like? From experience, I’d assume it’s felt isolating, that it’s full of emotional ups and downs, confusion, and even despair. Your grief feels complex and unexplainable to those around you. Your joy is complicated as you hear another friend is pregnant with her second while you’re waiting for your first — you’re happy for her and sad for you and maybe even bombarded with shame because you’re not as happy as you want to be.
The process of pursuing a family is a physically, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally taxing experience. Your marriage may feel added tension as you both experience stress while also, you know, trying to make a baby — a real recipe for not a lot of fun. You may harbor anger toward your body for not doing what you think it ought to be able to do. You long for community that can meet you deeply in your darkest season, but instead feel remarkably more alone. You desire to exhaust every option no matter how extreme with the belief that if you just tried hard enough you could control the outcome. You’re asking God questions like “Why?” and “How long?” — and voiced or not, what you are really asking is “Are you actually good, God? Can I trust you?”
I’m so incredibly sorry if you’ve experienced this or are currently walking through it. My heart breaks with you. I want you to know your extreme weariness and tired eyes are seen by God as He sits next to you in the middle of this journey. Pay attention — the Spirit of God is found here in our suffering.
When suffering falls heavy on your shoulders where do you place the weight? Do you tell yourself to pull it together as you strap the heavy load more tightly onto your back? Or do you find yourself at the feet of Jesus with legs shaking underneath you as you drop the backpack of shame, anger, and despair before Him, feeling your body relax as He takes the burden. Do you actually ask for the easy yoke that Jesus offers? Or do you find yourself bearing the weight all on your own, gritting your teeth, and hanging onto as much control as possible?
I urge you to seriously reflect on which road you most readily choose, for it will be pivotal in your life and in your spiritual formation.
Scripture tells us that walking through suffering with God produces perseverance, good fruit, and hope. Meaning these very things are absent when we choose to side-eye God and keep Him at an arm’s length while we carry suffering around on our own. I’ve had plenty of those side-eye moments over the last two years. They come when the enemy tempts me to believe that God can’t actually be good. They come when I see the seventh pregnancy announcement that week and believe the lie that God has forgotten me. They come when I’m tired of feeling all the feelings and wanting to simply shut down and check out.
Maybe you’re in that place right now. You’re tired and weary, questioning His goodness, His presence with you, questioning if He sees you, if He even cares…so you’ve looked away. You probably wouldn’t say you’re “angry” at God or even “frustrated” — that’s not what “good Christians” feel, right? Maybe you’d just say you feel indifferent or distant from Him.
But I’m going to ask you in the middle of your sadness and frustration to look up at Him. Make eye contact again. Do you see Him?
This God in front of you knows every unsaid word in your heart and does not shame you.
This God you see was there when you found out you weren’t pregnant again.
This God looks at you and knows your questions and anger.
This God longs for you to talk to Him about it.
This God you see is a Miracle-worker.
This God you see renounces all shame the enemy has tried to use to tie you up.
This God, with the kindest of eyes, says “I see your pain. I weep with you. I am here with you.”
I have learned and experienced profound hope and joy throughout these trying circumstances. I do indeed know and believe that God is good, that He is near, and that Jesus is truly our only hope. I have discovered that relinquishing control of my plans (and really, every corner of my life) to a trusting and loving God produces freedom, an unexplainable joy, and peace.
Hope, joy, and peace can only be found when we bring our complaints to God. That may seem backward and even unChristian, but a life with Jesus that is not honest will lack wholeness. It will lack transformation. Bringing our lament and pain to God with honesty is how we come to know personally that Jesus is near to us through His Holy Spirit.
The more we experience our good Father with us at our darkest, the deeper we discover who He is and what He’s like. And that will lead to a new joy, new peace, and new hope. Read through a few psalms and you’ll discover that lament often ends in praise.
There is a profound and mysterious way that Jesus meets us in the middle of our pain. Praise God!
But first we must be honest with Him about it.
Today, take a few minutes and journal or type out how you’re feeling about your situation. Ask God to help you connect with Him and with yourself. And be honest. I pray that He would meet you in a tangible way that comforts you and leaves you with peace.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)
Several months ago, back when our main association with the word Corona was a Mexican style lager, I was in a staff meeting during the lunch hour. Through a strange series of events, I did not have my lunch with me. Most people in the meeting were enjoying the fruits of their lack of negligence while I went without. I jokingly told the group that I would just eat off of Joseph’s plate who was sitting next to me. Truth be told, I really was not very hungry. But Joseph, another pastor on staff, graciously offered to share his lunch with me. It was very kind but I politely declined. Then Joseph said something to me that will not soon leave my memory.
“It’s ok to be in need.”
Joseph offered me a gift that day. And it was more than just half of his microwaved pork chop. It was the gift of sacrificing my pride in order to be the recipient of kindness. Like a ball bearing in a spray paint can, Joseph’s words rattled in my mind for several reasons. For starters, I was faced with the fact that I do struggle to receive help from people because I see it as a sign of weakness or deficiency within myself. But also, growing up as a child in a very low income home, I was reminded of the feelings of shame that came with living in a constant state of need.
I think being in need is difficult for us as humans in general. But the challenges are compounded in our western, and specifically midwestern, culture. Now I contend that there are noble and even biblical reasons for the discomfort of being in need. Perhaps we don’t want to be a burden to others (1 Thessalonians 4:12) or we want to strive to work hard to increase our own capacity to contribute (Ephesians 4:28).
But if we are honest with ourselves, our midwestern politeness can be used as a diversion to prevent us from embracing a place of humility and dependence. It can be a way to save face and avoid looking inadequate or perhaps inferior.
This is absolutely a motivation at play in my life when I attempt to do things on my own without the assistance or even input of anyone else. Not only do I want to avoid feeling inferior, I want my name to be the only name on the credits of my work and accomplishments. The pernicious nature of the sins of pride and arrogance is precisely why being in need is not just ok, but also good for us. But if that isn’t convincing enough, then consider the example of Jesus.
The person who was in very nature God was Himself a man who lived in need of others. Jesus needed His mother to care for and raise Him as a child (Luke 2:7). Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman showed that He was in need of her to provide water for Him (John 4:7). We even see Jesus needing the financial support of several successful women who were committed to His mission (Luke 8:2-3). If Jesus was in need then it is ok for you and I to be in need.
So let me offer three final words about why it is ok to be in need and receive help from others.
When we are humble enough to show our need to others and let them care for us, we are actually showing love to them. We are giving them the gift of using their gifts to serve us. We all know the experience of being blessed by blessing others. Now this does have a shadow side to it where we may want to help others to make ourselves feel good or, God forbid, superior. But in my experience within the family of God, people genuinely want to help and serve others because they truly believe the words of our Lord Jesus, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
One of the best ways to grow in hospitality and generosity is to be the recipient of hospitality and generosity. If we only ever play the role of host and never of guest, then we will find ourselves being malformed in the area of compassion.
Only those who have suffered are able to truly be a comfort to the suffering. This is most powerfully seen in the gospel of grace. When we receive the love of God in the gospel through Christ, it compels us to be people of love and grace towards others (1 John 3:16).
If we have a hard time being in need, then we will have a hard time being in worship. Because at the heart of what it means to worship God is to recognize our deep dependence upon Him.
Worship is not a mere spiritual experience. It is when we are profoundly awakened to and in awe of the reality of how great God is, and how great is our need for Him. When we are able to humble ourselves to receive from others, it is a way to prepare us to worship God. It is why the Psalmist describes our worship to God in this way.
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (ESV)
It is not easy being in need. But if we are to be a people who are shaped by the gospel and who live as a family united by Christ, then we must embrace the goodness of being in need. And the sooner we do, the more we can function as a caring family.
We know that times are tough and needs are increasing in this season. If you or someone you know is in need and are facing challenges right now, we want to know about it so that we can love and care for one another as family. We have a needs request form on our website that we would encourage you to fill out. By doing so you are loving us by letting us love you. That is what family does.
Guest Author: Meryl Herr
On Christmas Eve, our family typically attends an early evening church service and then returns home for a not-so-traditional holiday meal of pizza and cupcakes. We have a quick birthday party for Jesus before setting out a plate of milk and cookies and tucking our boys into bed for the night.
On Christmas morning, we exchange gifts in our living room and then emerge from a pile of discarded wrapping paper and boxes to share a breakfast of homemade cinnamon rolls, bacon, and orange juice, just as I did when I was a child. These are our simple holiday traditions.
While traditions can be fun, they can also be formative. It’s not always easy to see precisely how they shape us from one year to the next, but the Bible helps us understand how certain traditions can be instrumental in our spiritual development.
When God set apart the people of Israel for Himself, He put certain traditions at the center of their life together. And when Jesus set apart the church to be His witnesses in the world, He established a tradition that would bind them together around His death and the hope of His return.
To deliver His people from Egypt, God sent a series of plagues on Pharaoh and his country. The final plague was the plague of the firstborn: every firstborn son in Egypt would die. But God would pass over every firstborn son of Israel. God ordered that every Israelite family sacrifice a lamb and smear some of its blood across their door frames. He told them, “The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13).
And God wanted them to remember what He was going to do. So before the first Passover was even accomplished, God commanded his people to celebrate a Passover feast every year. Why? To honor the Lord for how He delivered the Israelites. But annually celebrating the Passover would have another purpose: to form the children of Israel around the story of their good God.
Through Moses, God told them, “And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians’” (Exodus 12:26-27).
OLD TRADITIONS WITH RENEWED MEANINGS
Before He died, Jesus celebrated a Passover feast with His disciples—to invite them once again to remember God’s faithfulness. But Jesus brought new meaning to the Passover feast when He broke the bread, shared the cup, and then submitted Himself to a death that would break His body and spill His blood. Jesus’ blood would be enough to cause God’s final judgment to pass over all who would believe in Him.
The Apostle Paul received this old tradition with heightend meaning. He told the Corinthians, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you” (1 Corinthians 11:23). And he reminded them that whenever we gather around the Lord’s Table to share the bread and the cup in communion, we also share the story of God. We “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 1:26).
HOW TRADITIONS FORM US
Even in our shared meals—whether or not they contain a turkey—we point to the welcome of God in the simple practice of fellowship. Every tradition, every symbol big or small, allows us an opportunity to invite others into the story of God.
In his book, You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith reflects on the formative power of the practices and traditions in his household. He writes,
“Family worship will be formative to the extent that it taps into our imagination, not just our intellect. To do so, worship needs to traffic in the aesthetic currency of the imagination—story, poetry, music, symbols, and images. There is a physicality to such household worship that encourages us to understand the gospel anew, in ways that endure in our imagination and thus shape how we make our way in the world” (p. 129).
The symbols and the rituals—the unleavened bread, the Passover sacrifice, taking the bread, taking the cup—invite us to participate in the story with our whole selves.We do not merely hear the story told, we touch it, we taste it, we re-enact it. The story becomes imprinted on our hearts and minds because it engages our senses, our emotions, and our intellect.
So many of our traditions shape us through what they symbolize. When we don’t understand a symbol or a ritual, we naturally ask someone older or wiser, “What does this mean?” When our symbols point to Christ and to His work in the world, we have the opportunity to share the story of God, the story of the gospel.
NOTICING OUR TRADITIONS
Too often, we take our traditions for granted. We do them because we’ve always done them. And we don’t notice how central they have become until they’re gone.
When I was in high school, my parents decided that we would spend Christmas break serving Christmas dinner and distributing gifts to children in Jamaica. My sister and I selfishly protested because that meant we wouldn’t spend Christmas with our extended family. No turkey. No ham. No dressing, sweet potato casserole, or creamed corn. None of Nanny’s slightly-overbaked-but-still-perfect sugar cookies. At that moment, I felt the value of our family traditions in a new way.
And then there was last year, the year when I sat at home in a Norco-induced haze on Christmas Eve, recovering from an emergency surgery two days earlier. I missed our Christmas Eve service. I missed standing in a circle around the worship center and passing the light from one candle to the next. I missed looking at softly illumined faces as we sang “Silent Night.” We didn’t have pizza and cupcakes for dinner. My children missed the cinnamon rolls, the orange juice, and the bacon.
But when they missed our traditions, when months later they asked, “Why didn’t we have cinnamon rolls last Christmas?” I knew that our traditions were somehow forming them and forming our family. When I missed the Christmas Eve service at church, I knew that the annual practice of looking at my church family as I prayed, “Sleep in heavenly peace,” had formed me.
Our family traditions form us as do the traditions we share as a church. When we light the Advent candles, sing our favorite carols, when we take the bread and dip it in the cup, we remember what God has done and look forward to what God will do. And, by His Spirit, God creates a community centered on His story.
This holiday season, let’s pay attention to our old traditions and, perhaps, start some new ones. Let’s create opportunities to tell others, “This is what it means.” Let’s fill our lives with rich symbols and repeated practices that point to a story greater than our own.
Meryl Herr is a former pastoral resident at Christ Community and current adjunct professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Cornerstone University. She is also the founder of The GoodWorks Group, a consulting firm specializing in educational program planning and evaluation.