Healing•Recovery • 5 minutes to read
Repeated throughout the Old Testament are examples where people set up stone markers or altars as reminders of their encounters with God. Moses names an altar The Lord is my Banner (Exodus). Jacob set up a marker (Genesis 35) at a place God had spoken to him. Samuel called a stone Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:12), saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” And I say a big amen to that one!
I have heard this called a Spiritual Marker, marking significant experiences. It marks times of transition, decision, or direction when I clearly know God has guided me—where I am specifically aware of the Divine at work in my life.
At the beginning of my recovery journey over 20 years ago, I learned about this spiritual principle. It is significant in my journey to this day. The first time I practiced setting up an altar to mark a spiritual experience in my own life was a year following my husband’s disclosure of sexual addiction. That journey started by going away to a counseling intensive for several days. One year later, we returned to that counseling center and built a small altar of stones together. We were grateful for the year of hard work we had behind us, and we cried and thanked God for meeting us in multiple ways through such a painful time. Even though our journey wasn’t over yet, we were able to celebrate God’s faithfulness to us as individuals and as a couple over that past year.
At that time, we planned to return to the same spot and again celebrate our progress ten years later. And we did. In 2008, we flew back to that very place and brought a gift to those in the office to say, “Thank you for what you do” and for being a part of our healing journey. We again built an altar of remembrance.
Through the years, I have continued this practice of building altars, because the physical ritual makes such an impact in my heart and mind. I can build an altar sitting by a river thinking about life. I can build an altar on a hillside in my backyard or in a graveled parking lot (and I have). Altars that are reminders of what God has done and sometimes represent what is still being worked out in me and my life and family.
Several years into our recovery, when my husband and I shared our recovery story with our children, we shared about the altar we had built together. We gave them their own stones and encouraged them to mark their own experiences with God. This was an opportunity like Joshua when he told the Israelites:
In the future your children will ask, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘This is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the river right before your eyes, and he kept it dry until you were all across, just as he did at the Red Sea when he dried it up until we had all crossed over.Joshua 4:21-24 NLT
We have had the opportunity to not only share with our children and extended family, but as the years have gone by, to share this message with others who are bravely walking through their journey of recovery—to witness and share in rituals with others, such as our own altars we have built.
It can be difficult to celebrate when we are still in the middle of our story, if everything isn’t “better” or right in our world. What if I celebrate and then go through something difficult again? We may want to close off or think we have nothing to celebrate. So we wait.
But we don’t need to wait to celebrate until everything is “just right” in our life or in our world. Wouldn’t we all still be waiting? We can celebrate now!
Celebration is not always spontaneous. It is often a choice.
When we allow ourselves to go through the real process of healing—not just pretending to celebrate or spiritually bypassing our emotions and need for healing—we can then honestly find many small and large things to celebrate; and know that our celebrating doesn’t excuse, lessen the impact of our hurts or challenges, or cause us to forget or minimize pain.
Maybe you aren’t in a place to celebrate as a couple yet or perhaps this isn’t a possibility for you to do with a spouse. Can you celebrate yourself and what you can control? That you are being honest with your emotions? That you are loving and accepting yourself? That you have the support of others, and are growing and changing and healing?
What if I celebrate that I have made it through some very difficult things, no matter where I’m at in my story? Recognizing I have been strong to get through what I have so far and that I’m carried by others and by love even when I feel weak. Celebrating things like, I woke up and took a breath today, or took care of myself, or reached out to someone else in their pain. Celebrating how I’m compassionate to others’ in their painful and joyful experiences. I celebrate that there is something deeper in me than I expected. I celebrate that I am enough, I am worth this journey of recovery, and I am resilient.
In these times, do I only have the opportunity to celebrate what I can understand or to also celebrate the possibilities; the fact that God has met me in some pretty deep ways in the past and will meet me again? I have personally learned to look for the little miracles within something bigger, within an unresolved or “in the middle of it” challenge. The times when God seems to be doing something differently than what I expected.
We are worthy to accept ourselves on our journey, as we are now, and celebrate the Spirit at work inside of us, the way our gracious God celebrates us. Zephaniah 3:17 shares an image of God rejoicing over us with singing, which literally can be translated as “dance, skip, leap, and spin around in joy.” Really? How cool is that! I can celebrate how I affect God in an intimate way. God is celebrating me without being at the end of the story; without me having it all together.
Rituals such as building an altar, or dancing and singing for that matter, are a way of celebrating—letting go of something behind us and embracing something new. Remembering and cherishing what God has done and opening our fists to release what is no longer needed or helpful; empty hands ready to celebrate something new.
Don’t save your celebrations only for the big things. Look for something in each day that represents something new, a clear direction, or even a possibility.
We might think celebration is about the present or the past but it’s also about the future.