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Memorials

It was a chilly October morning with a misting rain. I was on a college-visit trip with my

daughters and had decided that they needed to see at least a little of the campus of Auburn

University, where I spent my first year of college. I slipped away from the hotel early for some

time alone. I knew where I wanted to go, though it took me some time to find it. The Old

Rotation was a place I found as a freshman. It was quiet enough for reflection and close enough for me to walk to from my dorm at the Quad. Walking that dirt road as an 18-year-old, I listened to the gravel and rock crunch under my feet, I missed home, and I wondered about whether my doubts were too big to ever live a life of faith.


Stone memorial with beach in the background

When I tell the story of my life, that year always has a place in the narrative. The self-assurance, and perhaps a bit of smugness, that I previously had about my faith was challenged as I tried to articulate it to intelligent friends and professors who didn’t share my convictions. There was my English professor, who encouraged us to write about our own experiences but consistently pushed me to move beyond worn-out cliches to genuine expression. There was the atheist down the hall, whose arguments and questions made me realize that the stock answers given by some apologists and my home church were not equal to the strongest of the unbelievers’ objections.


I was wrestling not merely with questions of belief, but with my own failings. I began to

recognize that my self-righteousness was a mask for my own pride. I remembered the people I had ignored, hurt, and used in order to promote myself or protect myself from scrutiny. I found that there were places in my heart that were so dark that I wondered how light could ever reach them. As these truths confronted me, I fell into despair and sometimes wondered if I was destined to follow the path of my brother - the brother who had taken his own life when he was a student at this same school.


In the midst of it all, I remained in fellowship with other believers. I found a small church to attend and where I could actively serve. I read my Bible. I attended Bible studies and retreats. I prayed. And God provided believers around me to support me - Carl, a graduate student leader in the Navigators who helped me find the Christian counseling resources I desperately needed; and Joey, the roommate with whom I uttered quick prayers in the morning before classes. The story of that year is no doubt one that I will never fully understand - the way that my early foundation, the prayers of family and friends, and the support of brothers and sisters in Christ ushered me to a stronger, deeper faith.


As I emerged from the shadowlands that spring of 1993, I was on one of my many walks through the Old Rotation. My eyes were now open to the wonders of the world around me and my heart was basking in the absolute assurance of God’s presence and the wonders of his grace, freely given to the worst of sinners. I stooped down and picked up a rock from the road. I needed to remember this moment. I needed a substantial connection so that in the future I would remember the truths that I already knew were so easily forgotten.


Memorials are an integral part of the biblical accounts. Jacob set up a pillar after his encounter with God at Bethel (Genesis 28:18-22) When the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground they set up twelve stones as a reminder of what God had done (Joshua 4:1-10). In these stories and others there is a recognition of the connection between the physical and the spiritual in our lives and that this connection can serve as an anchor to sustain our faith, especially when we are in a difficult place in our journey. Memorials like these are ways that we remember God’s work in our lives and in our stories even when we can’t feel it as strongly as we did in those moments. Objects and places have a powerful ability to provide a continuity between past and present. It is a big part of why I tend to be a bit of a pack rat, accumulating objects that keep my history physically present with me. The recognition that the past remains with us, just as these objects, surely contributed to my eventual career as a historian.


But while the Bible stresses the importance of remembering God’s work in the past, it also reveals that our memorials can become idols. This happens more often than we want to admit. Firstly, memorials become idols when the experiences that we memorialize from the past set up patterns that we think God must follow when He interacts with us or with others. If our breakthrough was intellectual, for example, we might get stuck exploring those roads and ignore God’s challenges about how we engage in relationships or how we minister to the needy. We might insist that true encounters with God only occur under particular conditions that mirror our own stories of faith. The memorials become idols because, instead of hearing God’s voice as we interact with the Bible and in prayer each day, we rely on our prior experiences as the source of truth.


Secondly, memorials become idols when they do not allow us to retell our story in new ways as God shapes our hearts and minds. Memorial moments are often held onto tightly because they can give us a sense of security about where we stand with God. While there is value in remembering, placing our trust in those memorial moments is fundamentally at odds with what we are called to do as we follow Christ each day. The recalling of God’s great works in history and in our lives is a means to remind ourselves of what God can do and what He will do in the present and the future. As we grow in maturity and understanding, God can make clear to us that some experiences we have considered so sacred were marred by selfishness and unwillingness to deal with areas of sin in our lives. If we are so wedded to a pristine and perfect picture of a moment in our story we lose the capacity to repent fully and follow Him.


Finally, memorials become idols when we aim to reproduce the feelings we had in those times rather than engaging with God right now and with what he is teaching us through His Word. Sometimes, when we feel less close to God, when we sense God’s presence less keenly, it can be tempting to try to recreate the conditions surrounding our most meaningful times with Him. Human beings have a powerful ability to create emotional responses and we can often come to believe that a particular state of feeling is equivalent to experiencing God. Instead of seeking God Himself, we work hard to produce in ourselves the effects of God’s work rather than letting God move in his own ways and in his own timing.


My memorial rock stayed prominently on my bookshelf for many years. It helped me remember how real God had once felt to me, especially at times when my Christian walk was mostly a disciplined, slogging journey. Somewhere in the midst of my young adulthood, I lost that rock, probably in one of my many moves. So when I was back at Auburn in October, I picked up another one that was similar. I didn’t have a big emotional response, but I don’t think I was particularly disappointed.


That great work of God has come to take its place among repeated instances of God’s faithfulness and intervention. My special moment with God at the Old Rotation was ordained for 1993, not for 2023. And as I enter 2024, I pray that I will seek God, not an experience. I pray for a deep trust in the one who unfailingly guides me, sometimes with a memorial moment, but sometimes with just enough light to put one foot in front of the other.


 

Daniel Julich

Daniel Julich

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2 Comments


Unknown member
Jan 17

I found the church has a lot of room for communication. I started going to HP about 5 months ago I signed up for group life and no one reached out to me also even when I reached out with my illness no one called to say hello how are you doing? I know we are all busy but these small gestures make one feel this church cares.

I do think there should be a communication team that follows visitors and new converts and not just say welcome once. Phone calls are better than texting. Saying we are praying for you is ok but not very comforting and showing a sense of caring.😣

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Unknown member
Jan 25
Replying to

Hello Victoria


We appreciate this feedback and know that there is always room for us to improve. I will send you a follow-up email so we can engage there. Thank you for your honesty and willingness to connect with us!


Pastor Nick

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