For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
 I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
Isaiah 56:4–5 (ESV)
Monuments are reserved for people of significance. A great basketball player. A historic leader. Of recent note, there have been a number of razing of statues as a retrospective reckoning of the deplorable actions of former leaders. Made in the likeness of these people, Man-made monuments are a strange confluence of idle idols and significant statues.
I always wonder what kind of impact I am making. This curiosity stems from a deep insecurity. But said obsession also drives me to an unhealthy diligence. I double and redouble my efforts when the output is incongruent with the herculean effort I put into the dang Ministry Machine 2000™. If only it were as simple as y=mx+b.
This past weekend, God showed me my monuments. It’s as if He knew that I needed it. He didn’t belittle me for wanting affirmation nor did He give it to me with a condescending hushed murmur; in His infinite love and care, He picked me up knowing I’ve been struggling with a sense of saudade.
On Saturday, I grabbed some dim sum with two of my former church members from Seattle. If we’re going to talk about monuments, that experience was one I long to forget. How can I forget such abject failure? You’d think that such an experience, one that causes me to physically wince at its mention, would hardly be something I’d put on a resume let alone in the recesses of my mind. Yet these two sisters reached out to me.
The food, delicious of course, was secondary to the real nourishment I got from the sweet fellowship. Though so many years had passed, their recollection of the good times (unironically) was grace. To glean anything good from that spectacular sputtering (which didn’t even last a year) is either willful naïveté or cruel patronization.
As I go down the Rolodex of other members, I get sucked into the dangerous vortex of nostalgia. As wistful I already was, I realize that these two sisters were God’s providential monuments as a way to pastor me. That year of ministry was a burning house and I was the arsonist. I wasn’t just an imperfect pastor but an inept one. Yet these sisters, unbeknownst to them, reminded me that it wasn’t as horrible as I remember it to be.
Slurping down the last Xiaolongbao, one of the sisters made a passing comment as beautiful punctuation to the reunion.
“You should just move back to Seattle and start a church. I’d join, no questions asked.”
I let out a nervous laugh. But as the initial amusement dissipates, I appreciated the sentiment and the moment. I was thankful for God’s monuments.
I was running on a full tank of blessings (and turnip cakes) from the day before. I was good. But the Lord employed His Five Guys state of mind by shoveling an extra heaping of blessings into my already full bag.
Though I love doing college ministry, one of the sad realities is its turnstile machinations. While students come and go, I remain. I imagine this is how Jesse Tuck feels in Tuck Everlasting: the steep cost of immortality is witnessing the loss of everything else as you remain.
So to see some of my former students, in the flesh, was a restorative respite to the nose-to-the-grindstone world I exist in. Untouched by time, perhaps with different hairstyles but for the most part the same, the reunion was sweet.
We laughed (apparently a little too loud for our elders adjacent to us). We ate. We reminisced. The time capsule that was that lunch was yet again another monument of God’s faithfulness. This monument, for me, dispelled and disproved the myth of my ineffectiveness. And if I don’t have these moments of remembering, the self-perception of me (narrated by my sardonic self-talk) becomes reality, and even worse, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Again, over delicious food (which is an underrated aspect of good fellowship!), one sister remarked that I was her favorite pastor.
And as allergic I am to affirmations, the statement was so jarringly blunt that I couldn’t help but feel the heat coming off my now rufescent cheeks. And in a felicitous manner, I swiftly shoot it down.
But as we said our goodbyes, perhaps not to be seen for another two to three years, God showed me another monument to remember that all is not lost.
In the worldly sense, monuments are built for secularly successful people. The criterion, though it may be arbitrary, is based upon tangible and significant achievements.
But I don’t need that. I don’t even want that. When I think of monuments, I know that God is the one to erect them in my life. And when you see it that way, the monuments are no longer a fixture of what you have done nor is it a material manifestation of your self-aggrandizing proclivities. Do you know how I know the difference? When I think back about this past weekend, the feelings that flood in are not feelings of pride but feelings of incredulous gratitude.
The word “monument” used in the above passage in Isaiah 56:5 (cf. 2 Kings 23:17) is actually from the word for “hand”. The word is used to illustrate God’s sovereign providence. It is solely from God’s hand in which we receive these memorials of, not our great achievements, but God’s faithfulness. I used to lament that I wasn’t making a difference. I was so committed to building my own monuments, to make a name for myself, that I lost perspective and purpose. But God has graciously brought me low so that I can look up at the monuments He has already built and is continually building. And though I am forgetful, fickle, and feeble, God is gracious with these beautiful monuments. I am thankful for that.