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Setting Up Stones: Creating A Multi-Generational Family Memory

by Adam Rust

I grew up in a family that virtually never spoke about its past. Consequenlty, I reached a point in my adulthood where I suddenly realized that I knew absolutely nothing about my grandparents, great grandparents, or even my parents prior to the point in their lives when I was born. I had no idea what story to tell when asked where I came from.  This really began to trouble me when I started having kids and thinking about what story to tell them. While pondering this existential crisis, I came across some interesting bits of Scripture:

First, I came across Deut 6:6-9:

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

In this passage, I noticed that God seemed like he wanted to his people to talk about his commands all the time, especially when it came to “impressing them on your children.” What God didn’t seem to understand is that I’m busy and distracted, and I can’t really be expected to talk to my kids all the time about his commands. That would be really hard. Aside from the very strange suggestion to tie stuff to my hands, forehead and doorpost, how am I really going to talk to my kids all the time about God’s commands?

I then stumbled across an interesting idea in Joshua 4:6-7:

“In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

Setting Up Stones

A pile of rocks might not seem at first like the best solution for a new father looking for a story to tell his kids, but it was the spark I needed to ignite a passion to change my family culture. The people of Israel had a pile of rocks “to be a memorial forever.” They could rehearse the story of God’s faithfulness to them every time they saw those rocks. Brilliant!  I need to set up stones for my family. I need to create memorials, things that commemorate and demonstrate God’s faithfulness in our family’s history. I don’t know any of that story for the generations that preceded me, but I have determined that my children and their children will not be able to say that. So, I set out to find ways to create things that are permanent and can serve as reminders and can tell a story.

Practical Suggestions To Practice Remembrance

Here are some ideas that I came up with to “set up stones” for my family:

1) Start email accounts for your children. Write letters to your children and send them to their email accounts. Send photos, videos, articles. Tell them stories about current events in your family. Share reflections on books or Scripture passages that you are reading. Tell them you love them. Tell them how you are praying for them. Describe your vision for their future and the subsequent generations. When your children reach an age that you deem appropriate, turn over access info to those email accounts to your kids. Memorializing this way protects these memories against fading, loss, theft, or damage. These “stones” can last forever, be duplicated, pass from generation to generation, and even be searched.

See this short video for a demonstration.

2) Start a blog about your family. This is basically a permutation of idea #1.

3) Create family rhythms and traditions. One practice that has been fruitful for our family recently is to do “Shabbat Family Training Time.”  We started by having a weekly day of rest (Shabbat). Within that day of rest, we carve out about half an hour in the morning to talk about some topic from the past week that we noticed was particularly relevant for the training of our children. We have talked about everything from how to share toys with other kids to how to listen for God’s voice. We follow up each discussion with a time of practicing the thing we just discussed in some kind of role playing exercise. Not only does this train our kids, but it also creates a rhythm that they can count on and eventually continue with their children some day. The long run goal is that the rhythm itself becomes a kind of “stone”. In other words, the memories that our children have of their childhood when they are adults will be marked by a steady repetition of training.

4) Practice Festivals and Holidays. The purpose of the biblical feasts of Passover, First Fruits, Tabernacles, etc. was to remind God’s people of the journey he had taken them on (Ex 12:24-28; Lev 23; Deut 6:4-9; 6:20-25). Even the practice of communion is spoken of as a feast of remembrance (Luke 22:19). The regular practice of such festivals offers parents a great occasion and object lesson for teaching children about the great past from which they come (i.e. rooted in the biblical story). Our family has found that the traditional holidays of our culture have little value for teaching children, largely because these holidays have become too commercialized and focused on the present. Instead, we have found the practice of the biblical feasts to be far more fruitful for teaching children because they require more explanation and have a lot less commercialization surrounding them, which allows us to give a lot more attention to the great story that they tell.

Here’s a helpful book for integrating the biblical feasts into your family’s practice.

5) Have a regular family story time. Set a time every week that is dedicated to having an elder member of your family tell a story about the family to its younger members.

6) Take lots of pictures and videos and make slide shows and home movies to document what’s happening in your family. Set a time every quarter to gather your family together to watch these slideshows or movies and rehearse the memories together. Archive this media in a way that your kids can access it at a later time (e.g. online storage, external hard drives, etc.).

7) Buy a piece of property that you will never sell.  Make memories there.  Pass the property to your children.

8 ) Get a tattoo. Just read this blog post, and you’ll see why.

The point of all of these practices is to create a multi-generational memory for your family. This can sound like a huge and daunting task, but you can create a family culture in which remembering the past and seeing God’s work in your ancestry is simply part of the family’s DNA. In this kind of family culture, the creation and perpetuation of a multi-generational family memory is second nature and a labor of love. Now that our family has caught the vision for creating this multi-generational family memory and instituted some of the practices listed above, I find that I can’t wait to take some time to write a letter, or tell a story, or plan a festival, because I see each of those efforts as being the next stone that is set up in the building of a huge monument of memories made for my progeny in which to find direction, identity, and (most importantly) testimony to God’s faithfulness.

P.S. In addition to the passages given above, examples could be multiplied where other biblical characters set up stones in some fashion or another as an object of memorial (Gen 28:20-22; 31:45-50; 35:14; Ex 24:4; Deut 27, etc.). The point of setting up the stones in all these cases is to create a kind of memorial that reminds the people of God’s story, his commands, his faithfulness, and their need to obey.

P.P.S. I also drew some inspiration from Don Miller’s book when it came to living in (and telling) a better story.  I recommend this book.