Recently, my husband and I snuck away for a weekend in the mountains. Given life with 5 children who happen to be at such different stages (ages 7-24), our times away are precious and rare. Through the years, we’ve learned that it’s a good idea to talk about expectations for our time away prior to departure. Often, we try to run together in the mornings (ahem… that is, he’s gracious enough to jog at a much slower pace than he normally would, and I try to “gut it out” in the spirit of recreating together). This trip, following a particularly busy season for our family, I opted out. I wanted time alone to decompress. He would run alone, and I’d take peaceful morning walks through the tranquil little town of Blowing Rock.
On our second morning away, I felt particularly refreshed from a good night’s sleep. Before I knew it, my morning walk picked up pace, and I found myself enjoying a slow, steady jog. The roads were desolate, the storefronts dark, and I wound my way down the main street, through the park, and eventually back toward the inn where we were staying.
Having been recently thinking and writing about stones, I was acutely aware of their various uses in the architecture around me. They piled together creating a picturesque church, lined the sidewalks directing shoppers to their destinations, and paved the way to historic inns. Yes, the stones represented strength, consistency through years, support and direction. These were good things.
Until… I tripped. Yes, as I was swept up in the imagery of the stones, the context abruptly shifted. I had come to a place on the path where the larger stones had remained intact, but the areas around the stone had been worn away through seasons of use and erosion. The tip of my shoe caught the edge, and I stumbled to keep from falling. Hmmm. Perhaps there is another dimension to the metaphor.
As we pick up in the story of Joshua (you can catch up here), Joshua lists all that God has done to protect and bless the Israelites. Joshua then charges them to put away false gods (ie idols) and serve God only (Joshua 24:14-15). Ok – that’s difficult to translate into today’s terms. Although the concept of idols may seem irrelevant in our modern society, unfortunately, they are all too present in each of our worlds.
“We think that idols (counterfeit gods) are bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that we can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god. Especially the very best things in life.” Tim Keller
The people respond to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and we will obey His voice.” (Joshua 24:24) Of course. After all that they’d been through, they would be foolish not to.
Joshua takes a large stone to set up under a tree by the sanctuary of the Lord. We’d expect him to say, “Great! You’ve made a wise choice that will please your God and serve you well. Here’s another memorial stone to remind you.” Instead, his response is ”Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord which He spoke to us, thus it shall be a witness against you, so that you do not deny your God.” (Joshua 24:25-28)
Yikes. The stone was not a reminder of their wise choice, rather it foreshadowed their fickle nature and inevitable return to false gods. They, like us, overestimated their loyalty to the only One who could ultimately provide for them.
Think of the times you’ve been provided for. Chances are, if they’re biggies, the provision came from beyond you. Only God can bring us through the hardest of situations. It is when we reach the end of our proverbial ropes that He will step in to rescue. Yet we spend much of our energies trying to avoid that very thing. We’re competent. We’re resilient. We construct our lives in ways that take control. We work hard to avoid dependence on God in the everyday – I can manage my life, thank you very much. God can stick to the miracles and healings when I get in a pinch. And that posture of the heart, at its very core, is the essence of idolatry.
What are some of the counterfeit gods in my life? Financial security, a unique community of rich friendships, health and well-being of my family, excellent education for my children, intellectual pursuit, and even a healthy lifestyle. These are good things, but things in which I ultimately place too much hope and significance.
As the memorial stones in life remind us of God’s provision, they should simultaneously serve as a caution to us. They warn us of our defiant nature, and remind us of the places we take control and manipulate life rather than resting in the Father. We try to gain our footing on the gravelly self-made crevices that exist between the solid, sustainable, eternal stones. And because He’s good and wants what is best for us, He allows us to stumble. He’s constantly calling us back to Himself.
So after stumbling on the side street of Blowing Rock, I’m reminded that I’m limited. And that a richer, more peaceful life can be found if I’ll acknowledge my innate tendency to reject God by relying on my own strategies for life. And the very, very good news is that I’ll find not shame nor condemnation, but rather hope and ultimate rest, when I consider “the other side of the stone.”