Using spiritual souvenirs to remember

Jen Bradbury
Jan 23 · 5 min read

Yesterday, a colleague told me about Snapchat, a photo messaging application that allows the user to take photos, send them to a controlled list of recipients, and set a time limit for how long the photos can be viewed before they vanish from the recipient's device.

As a youth worker, I certainly see why this technology appeals to teens. I also see why so many people are concerned about it and I'm thankful for those like Adam McLane who continue to teach teens, parents, and youth workers principles to guide social media use. 

Aside from some of the obvious concerns regarding a service like Snapchat, as a person of faith this technology concerns me for another reason: In a culture that embraces that which is fleeting, how do we, as people of faith teach students to value what lasts? In a culture that readily hits delete in order to immediately erase various people, places, and events from our lives, how as people of faith do we teach students to remember?

After all, isn't remembering a critical aspect of a life of faith? Isn't it because we're a people called to remember that we celebrate Jesus' birth, lament his death, and rejoice in his resurrection every year? Isn't this why Jesus commands his disciples to break bread and drink wine?

By using such everyday objects, Jesus establishes a ritual of remembrance that connects people's everyday existence to their lives of faith. He gives us a means for experiencing grace.

As a youth worker, I desperately want my students to experience God's grace and to connect their everyday lives with their journeys of faith.

To do this, when I teach, I often have students create spiritual souvenirs – take-home objects designed to help them remember significant spiritual moments in their journeys of faith. I've found that oftentimes, retreats are an opportune time to utilize spiritual souvenirs.

For example, during my high school ministry's recent retreat on self-image, students decorated a five-piece nesting doll. On the outer doll, students painted two things: How they project themselves to others and how they believe others see them. On the second, students mod-paged images from magazines onto their doll in order to answer the question: How does the media define beauty? On the third, students painted something to represent what influences their self-image. On the fourth, students used markers to list their failures and self-doubts. For the fifth and final doll, small group leaders presented each member of their group with a doll containing one word describing how they believe God sees that student.

Throughout the weekend, we used the dolls to prompt discussion. We also used the dolls for other activities, including a powerful time of prayer.

Most significantly, we sent the nesting dolls home with students. In so doing, these dolls became a spiritual souvenir designed to evoke in them the memory of this retreat and it's central message: Their self-image and worth come from their identity in Christ.

No doubt, some of these dolls will end up in boxes of sentimental trash. But others will find a home in student's rooms. Some students will even take these dolls with them to college.

I know this because I've seen it happen before with students and spiritual souvenirs. Occasionally, students will text or Facebook me about how they reached for a book and saw a jar of broken glass on their shelf that reminded them of our relationship retreat or about how they sat at their computer and ended up thumbing through the prayer book given to them at graduation. To anyone else, these items are insignificant. But to these students, they're powerful reminders of retreats, discussions, and prayers offered on their behalf. They're reminders of God's love, grace, and continuing work in their lives.

And in today's fast-paced world, we need that.

In a culture that encourages students to forget, spiritual souvenirs challenge them to remember.

In a culture that tells students everything is fleeting, spiritual souvenirs last and in so doing, they point to God - the one who never vanishes, even in a Snapchat kind of world.