The Markers We Leave

Here is a condensed version of a wonderful story found in Hebrew Scripture that I have found myself thinking about lately.
After years in the wilderness and the death of Moses, the Israelites, now under the leadership of Joshua, stand at the banks of the Jordan River. The desert and the years of wandering are behind them. The Promised Land is in front of them. Just as they are about to plunge into the river to cross to the Promised Land Joshua tells them to stop.
“Before you cross,” he says, “take a stone from the river and carry it to the other side and then set them down in a pile.”
Somewhat annoyed (at least this is what I imagine), the people ask, “Why?”
“So that in the days to come,” Joshua replies, “when you are walking along the banks of the river with your children or your grandchildren or your neighbors children they will see the pile of out of place pile of stones and ask you about them. Then, you will have the chance to tell them the story.” (Joshua 4)

Two things strike me about this story.
First, is the intentionality around the markers that are left for others to see.
Creating that pile of stones along the Jordan River was an intentional act.
You and I do a hundred things each and every day which others see and, in some way, ask “Why?”
Why did you treat the checkout clerk at the grocery store that way?
Why did you get upset by that situation?
Why did you do that?
Can we learn to pay better attention to and be more intentional about those everyday decision, both large and small, which add a stone to the markers we create?

Second, the markers provide the opportunity for us to tell the story.
Why do you do what you do?
Why did you pay attention to a person like that?
Why did you make that decision about how to spend your time or money?
This is the hard part for many of us.
We are better at doing than we are at telling the story.
The challenge for us is to find the words…
To have them ready…
Because the time will come when another will ask.
Our children will ask.
Their friends will ask.
Our c0-workers will ask.
And, we need to be ready to say:
“Because we are to treat others the way we would like to be treated.”
“Because no one deserves to go to bed hungry.”
“Because I am a Christian and this is how I think Christians are to act.”

Paul Alcorn is the Pastor at Bedford Presbyterian Church in Bedford, NY.
You can follow his writing and reflections at


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