Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen
and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
—1 Samuel 7:12 (ESV)
I set my backpack and books on the table, causing a chain reaction. Unopened Christmas letters, bills, and advertisements tumble to the floor. Gathering the pile and placing it back on the table, I glance at the fruit basket that had only moments before held the heap. A shriveled lemon and a rather overripe banana stare me down from the basket, revealed after the mail fell off — small reminders of a crazy month filled with holiday travels and ceremonies and no time to catch my breath. Between trips, we would arrive home with just enough time to unpack, throw a load of clothes in the wash, repack, and leave again. Yes, our house stood holding utter chaos and I found yet another chance to say, “Ugh, the mess has never looked this bad or deep!” But it has, and I know better than to mutter that complaint under my breath. I am forever dousing obligatory sparks that need my immediate attention.
But life is bigger than the mail that cascades onto my feet. Next to the petrified fruit, I find an old clockwork toy, a bit sticky from my granddaughter’s toddler hands. The clutter fades from view and I remember winding it for her a hundred and one times, watching her giggle and pick up the toy, trying to figure out how it works, just like her auntie and uncle before her. I go back to those magical moments during the holiday visit, then I smile and walk away from the yet-unopened mail, refreshed and reminded of how beautiful life is.
So here I am, at it again. The impasse of the must-dos wins out over the hope-tos. Somehow, it seems that our culture works backwards. We think that if we can just get ‘x’ done, then we will finally get around to doing ‘y,’ but as time rolls on, there really isn’t a break. We should purpose to find rest as an essential part of life, not use it as a carrot of reward at the bottom of an endless to-do list.
An ebenezer reminds us that God was, is, and shall be with us. We can rest in that and rest in faith because God is unchanging.
Each priceless reminder in my home, like that clockwork toy, is an ebenezer, a “stone of help.” Like the memorial stone that Samuel set down after his victory over the Philistines, my ebenezers remind me of God’s presence and faithfulness, not just in my life, but generations of family before. They ground me as touchstones to the past and signposts of my own journey — symbols that the Lord has remained steadfast in beauty and crisis, plenty and want. They act as a glimmering, divine ribbon woven through the tapestry of my life.
When my parents had to shrink their large house down to a small apartment, I took a few of these reminders — an odd collection of items, no doubt. There was a small box of books in the shed that belonged to my Danish great-grandmother. In it, I found an anthology of Billy Sunday’s sermons, copiously dog eared and marked in her own hand. Under Sunday’s text lay her copy of Ironside’s book on Liturgical Offerings, a Danish hymnal and Bible, and small editions of Shakespeare bound in cinnamon-toned kidskin. Did my great-grandma pray for her descendants? After reading her notes, it certainly appears that she did. And I never would have guessed that she loved Shakespeare, just like me. Those ebenezer books sit on my well-used bookshelf. Sometimes, I’ll pull one off the shelf, sit, and rest with the memory of this godly woman, imagining her at table, praying for future generations and my family.
On top of those old books sits an ancient duck decoy that belonged to my grandfather. In a glance, I am taken back to a Minnesota autumn by Twin Lakes, walking in freshly harvested fields with the smell of dirt and grain rising up from the mud under my boots. I close my eyes and hear the call of the geese and the splash of colorful ducks gliding onto the lake’s surface. I remember my grandfather’s patience and good humor as we kicked dirt clods and scanned the field for arrowheads. While I read and write at my desk, my feet rest on an old wooden box that stored bottled soda, and an old ammunition box holds my files nearby on the floor. Teabags stand in straight order tucked in a narrow pine box, once manufactured for Velveeta cheese, which I repurposed from a rough-hewn chest of reused-box drawers from a generation that left nothing to waste. These are sweet reminders of my grandfather who assembled scrap wood to store miscellany in his shop. The cozy memories these worn things bring give me rest by simply carrying my mind back in time.
Friends visit for rest and refreshment, not to check your housekeeping skills.
There was a time when my joy in hospitality was overshadowed by the perceived necessity of a well-organized house. My personal touchstones did battle with the guilt stemming from decoys on my books and a random tin raven from a long-ago Poe play. I’d straighten my books on the floor (too many for the shelves) and greet my guests with “I’m sorry my house is a bit of a disaster.” We’d walk to the kitchen table that was layered in various stages of homeschooling, science projects, and art supplies and make room for a coffee mug while I continued to make excuses for the odd conglomeration of stuff.
Contentment began to replace the excuses. One day, I invited a few moms over for coffee, currant scones, and a good chat. One friend had not returned from checking on the kids downstairs and I found her curled up in my worn and overstuffed reading chair, sound asleep with a book on her lap. The sun was streaming through the bay window, warming her and casting a cheery glow over the setting. She opened one eye to look at me and said, “You surround me with books, place a chair in a sunny spot, and expect me to not nap? Your house does this to me. I walk in. It feels like home. I was just resting and fell asleep.” There is no higher complement than a napping friend who has helped herself to the books and found rest.
Recently, my phone rang and the voice of a sweet friend said, “I need to talk. I’m out on errands, but can I come over for a bit?” I looked at my table and sized up the space we would need to fit a tea kettle, two mismatched china cups, and my grandmother’s plate displaying a half-sleeve of English digestive biscuits. No time to clean, so the clutter was gathered up at the other end. She never noticed the piles of old books or grandma’s blue mason jars during the three-hour conversation. We nibbled the digestives, sipped Earl Grey, and solved the world’s problems. She was there to restore and refresh. We laughed and prayed in the midst of the mess.
A defining characteristic of Danish culture is hygge — simply being present in the moment and finding comfort and contentment in it.
Friends assure me that this very-lived-in house, in spite of its eclectic personality, is a haven where they can completely relax. The kettle is always prepped and next to a full complement of tea; fluffy blankets drape across the couches; Plato, Frog and Toad, C.S. Lewis, and fairy tales keep company on the table. The people of Denmark have a word for living in a simple way, welcoming guests into a place of ordinary comforts. “Hygge” (pronounced hue´guh) is the Danish term describing a lifestyle of contentment and coziness, like the tucked-in feeling you get from a warm blanket and convivial conversation. Once the idea traveled out of Denmark, simple hygge transformed into an overthought lifestyle and it spread like wildfire, especially in the United States. Books were written and merchandise was promoted to build the “hygge way of life.” It became a thing to achieve rather than a feeling to enjoy.
But hygge cannot be purchased from an upscale catalog because you already have it available — you only need to recognize what is already there. It’s sitting down for time with a friend in the midst of the mess because coziness and relationship are true Danish hygge. Think of a crackling fire and cocoa or a candlelit room with friends. Even in solitude, a wonderfully brewed cup of tea and your own touchstones invite you into the comfort the Danes have always known. That moment of rest you experience is forever right and good and beautiful. Those experiences are an inner hug for your soul, an ebenezer for your mind. Rest.
Recognizing the holiness of the moment by our presence in the moment elicits a sigh from the comfort of it all — good company, stories, and ebenezers that warm our hearts as we imagine another time that we still cherish in our hearts. There is joy close to all of us if we will only look for the tiny, glimmering reminders that our Creator has placed in our path to give us rest on earth with the promise of rest forever with Him.
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
—Robert Robinson, excerpt from “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”
The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Annie Nardone is a flannel-clad, cowboy boot-shod adventurer who seldom travels with a map because joy and surprise are discovered in the journey! Her sincere passion is the reintegration of the arts and humanities with theology and the Christian imagination. She holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University and writes for Literary Life and the quarterly magazine, An Unexpected Journal. Annie resides in Virginia with her Middle Earth/Narnia/Hogwarts-loving family, and an assemblage of sphynx cats and feline foundlings who read with her daily. In a poll taken among friends, six things that characterize her include: books, C.S. Lewis, spontaneous adventure, Shakespeare, caffeine, and cats.