I was in conversation recently with a newfound friend, Julie, about my adventures a few years ago on the Great Wall of China. As I recalled, we were a motley crew from various countries, eager to see the sights after having completed many rounds of meetings. Our friendly guide, a most literary and well-read person, decided to take us to the Jinshanling stretch of the Wall because it was the one less travelled and, in his opinion, more authentic and scenic.
We had overnighted at a nearby farm where we feasted on naturally sweet vegetables and produce fresh from the fields, tastily cooked by Mrs Farmer. At the crack of dawn, we set off on our adventure, but not before Mr Farmer had cut us several sturdy branches for use as walking sticks. I thought he was being friendly-like and perhaps it was their usual gesture of goodwill. In the van, I noticed that our guide had a proper walking stick as well, but thought nothing of it. When we arrived at the entrance to the Wall, I noticed several stalls selling walking sticks, amongst all the other usual souvenirs.
When you stand at the base of the Great Wall, you see it stretching away from you, as far as the eye can see, punctuated regularly by watch-towers. Long before we arrived at the first watch-tower, I had begun to understand the wisdom of the walking sticks. This was not going to be your usual touristy traipse. This was serious hiking because many parts of the Wall had yet to be restored and so we often had to scramble (occasionally on all fours) over rubble and broken steps.
After a couple of hours we finally arrived at a watch-tower that had a man-made staircase at the side which would take us down to our waiting van. As I stood there catching my breath and enjoying the panoramic view of rolling hills and mountains, I turned around to see how far we’d come…and was shocked. I knew we’d come some ways, but I hadn’t realized how far that was. I couldn’t even see our original entry point. With each ascent to the next watch-tower, we had struggled, but there was always another milestone to aim for, another breathtaking vista to gaze upon, and so we soldiered on.
Now, looking back, it finally hit me the distance we’d come. And it was nothing short of miraculous that we’d made it this far. So, back to the present and my conversation with Julie. At this point in my narration, she quipped, “It’s like our lives!” And she was right. It’s only when we look back on our lives that we recall the significant moments when God helped us over the loose stones and the broken steps. His Holy Spirit is that walking stick that gives us the boost or traction to overcome the difficult spots.
I was reminded again of the numerous times in the Bible that God urges us to “Remember”. Deuteronomy is littered with “remembers” that have fallen by the wayside.
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today. (Deuteronomy 15:15 NIV)
We’re so focused on reaching that next milestone or target and, while we’re struggling to achieve that, we often lose sight of what God has already done for us. My beloved husband is fond of saying during his sermons that as soon as God answers one prayer, we’re already focused on praying to Him about our next need/project/goal. We don’t take time to remember.
I have had my fair share of forgetting, of being like Peter sinking into the foaming waters of the Sea of Galilee because he’d lost his focus on Jesus. I’ve had some dark days in recent times when the waves threatened to overwhelm. All the responsibilities pulling me in different directions had me swamped. Thank God, like that day on the Great Wall, I looked back and saw how far God had journeyed with me. The times when a misstep would have plunged me down a ravine had the Holy Spirit not prompted me. The times when a friend’s helping hand, as an extension of God’s love, had made the difference between a twisted ankle (thwarted plan?) and a sure step.
I never started a journal until after my first husband’s death. Life was throwing me so many curve balls then, I knew I had to discipline myself to remember God’s abiding goodness. Now, I can look through these journals and find wisdom and faith to move on even when the going gets tough.
As Gordon MacDonald puts it,
Once we begin to identify these “landmarks” of life, the memories begin to flow.
I think God had this in mind when He led Israel out of Egypt and across the wilderness toward the promised land. From the very start, God freshened their memories as a people. At the earlier moments of the journey, He taught them the ceremony of the Passover.… Throughout the journey, which lasted forty years, God gave names to places of significance. He had Israel construct altars and monuments here and there.… In other words: remembering is important. Remembering correctly is important. Remembering appreciatively is important. [A Resilient Life. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), pp. 111–112.]
Whether it is through your journal or the Ebenezer stones that you keep, don’t forget to “Remember!”.