The Symbols That Define Us

A 4 by 3 inch slice of wood sits on my desk. Fifteen years ago it served as the stump to a Christmas tree that stood in our living room.

That year, I was struck by the fact that my Christmas tree spent  10 years preparing itself to be the family tree for three weeks. In the same way, I realized, God may spend months, even years, preparing me for significant moments.

I keep the tree sample on my desk as a reminder. In many ways, that stump symbolizes  my values–the existence of God, the potentially redemptive nature of pain, the importance of preparing myself for significant moments.

Symbols Are All Around Us

We live in a world of symbols. Photos remind us of past events. Plaques, trophies, and medals take us back to earlier accomplishments. Tattoos on our bodies reveal untold stories. Perhaps you wear a cross to remind you of the steep price Jesus paid to save you from yourself. The symbols we choose to keep nearby say a great deal about our past and our values.

The importance of symbols cannot be understated. A life without them is a life devoid of meaning and memory.

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they gathered large stones from the bottom of the river and constructed a memorial on the river bank to remind them of the day God parted the waters to bring them home. The stones did more than tell a story—they taught the people about God.

The greatest memorial in the Christian faith is the Lord’s Supper, which reminds us not only of Jesus’ death, but also the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us, our hunger for him, and the importance of community (hence the word “communion”).

What do the symbols in your life communicate about you?

What symbols are missing?

What symbols shouldn’t be there?

As you revisit the memorials in your life, take a moment to listen. What might God be speaking to your heart?

If anything comes to mind, please share it with us!

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His favorite symbol is a carved, wooden crucifix that hangs on a wall in front of his computer. 



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5 responses to “The Symbols That Define Us

  1. Georgie-ann

    I think you’ve said it very well. In these days of massive “instant gratification”, becoming aware of — (and even more difficult, respectful of) — processes and issues that transcend the moment, and ask more of us than “grab it, and get it, and gape at it, and go”, is such a “back-burner” concern that many seem barely cognizant of it at all,… (and, of course, “the more’s the pity”),…

    “Living for the moment”,… “stuffing your mouth with your very fast food”, your car with gasoline, your veins with addicting substances,… more, more, more,… move, move, move,… fast, fast, fast,… burn out, don’t rust out,… make up your own mis-spelled answers at school and get an A+,… you’re nothing much more than an ape-ish “product of natural evolution”,… “Get yours before someone else gets it”,… or “Do it to them before they do it to you”,…

    These used to be considered rude, adolescent, ignorant and boorish, behavior patterns,… well, they still are, whether or not anyone realizes it anymore,… well, how could they???,… so many of their real-life “heroes” are making “big bucks” and living life-styles fit for not much more than the pigpen,…

    Reflexes — the simplest, and most short-cutted, movement mechanisms in the body — were designed to respond well in emergencies to by-pass the slower BUT HIGHER levels of thinking and consideration,… in order to solve an immediate physical problem,… but NOT to run one’s life, or to be the eternal default “decision maker”,… NOT IN THE LEAST,…

    To live life “in the moment” via the reflexes IS to live much more like animals than we’ve been created and endowed to do,… but this seems to be largely “forgotten wisdom/knowledge”,… buried somewhere deep in modern man’s experiential memory, with the last of the “truly wise (and now almost extinct, and rarely revered) grandmotherly and grandfatherly generations”,…

    in fact, animals and “the primitive” are even revered now by many,… a pretty big mistake,… (not that there is not “some good” to be found in these things),…

    The blaring of televisions and pressing demands of fast-paced, dysfunctional life situations, and the dumbing down influences so pervasive in schools, have been competing with and drowning out the voices of established past knowledge, historical tried and true values, even the fundamental and wisdom and truth of God,… (and, once more, “the more’s the pity”),… how do you bypass God?,…

    Short-sighted,… deficient,… “the blind leading the blind”,…

    Luke 6:39 “And He spoke a parable to them: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch?'”

    Pinocchio’s conscience, (Jiminy Crickett), comes to mind,… and any number of wonderfully appropriate Biblical Proverbs (it IS an age-old problem after all),…

    Proverbs 12:15 “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.”

    Proverbs 14:16 “A wise man fears and departs from evil, But a fool rages and is self-confident.”

    Proverbs 15:7 “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, But the heart of the fool does not do so.”

    Proverbs 17:10 “Rebuke is more effective for a wise man Than a hundred blows on a fool.”

    Proverbs 17:28 “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.”

    Proverbs 28:2 “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.”

    Proverbs 29:11 “A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back.”

    slowing down,… STOPing,… absorbing more than the moment,… considering much more than simple reflexes will ever have to offer,… here is where the stories and symbols of everlasting truths can become meaningful,… reaching and researching into the greater depths of the mind, wisdom and understanding,…

    Living life simply by reflexes is very one-dimensional and ultimately boring,… emotions might add some depth and color, but often find themselves self-seeking, frustrated and “painted into a corner”/boxed-in,… only through adding and respecting correct knowledge and training, wisdom (both spiritual and practical), can man achieve the levels of “engagement” with this life that are truly suited to his potential,…

    Matthew 11:29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

    Selah,… pause and consider,… learn,… it’s the only way out of the rat-race,… the only way into God,…

    Psalm 1
    [The Way of the Righteous and the End of the Ungodly]

    1 “Blessed is the man
    Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor stands in the path of sinners,
    Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
    2 “But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    And in His law he meditates day and night.
    3 “He shall be like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also shall not wither;
    And whatever he does shall prosper.

    4 “The ungodly are not so,
    But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
    5 “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
    Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

    6 “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    But the way of the ungodly shall perish.”


  2. Georgie-ann

    God’s symbols, correctly understood, can link us not only to the spiritual and historical past, and to a deeper reality and greater sense of being in the present, but also to eternity. They help us to not only transcend the limitations of time and space, but to remind us of spiritual truths and keep us focused more closely on God (and more “out of the devil’s reach”). It’s kind of win-win for us!

    • Georgie-ann

      I think some people think of this as helping oneself to remain “mindful” of God and His realm, while carrying out the ongoing daily duties and concerns of life. Without appropriate symbols and opportunities for worship — (“out of sight, out of mind”) — many precious things can be forgotten, lost, brushed aside, or ignored during the ever present clamor. Symbolic reminders of God can help us maintain and regain focus,… even when we’ve become tired.

      Some people are afraid of having/making superstitious attachments and connections to things. These would be improper attachments coming from improper or spiritually immature motivations in the individual. If we are concerned about these matters, and carefully on our guard, God is able to help us grow and mature spiritually, as our faith and understanding mature.

      God is in the business of helping us through faith,… the devil is in the business of intimidating us through fear,…

      Trust God,… God is ALWAYS Good,…

    • Georgie-ann

      Deuteronomy 11:18,19
      18 “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a SIGN on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

      Another firm counsel from God to His people, about creating a “sign” — (it was worn like a piece of jewelry) — to help them remember Him and His commandments all day long, all night long,… iow: ALWAYS,… and it was meant to be a continual blessing and encouragement,…

      I think this shows how well God understands us,… Giving/exchanging blessed rings at a wedding is very standard practice, and is intended to communicate much “more meaning” than just the color and design of the rings,…

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