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Author: Seth Adam Smith

We Become What We Worship

We Become What We Worship

We become what we worship. That is to say, we emulate—or become like—the people (and things) we most admire. To understand this concept, we have to understand the origins of the word worship.

The word worship comes from the Old English worðscip or wurðscip —or worthship—meaning “condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown.”

What Does It Mean to Worship?

To worship something is to see worth in a person or object. But there is a reciprocal nature to worship. More than anything, people yearn to be respected and valued, to be seen as someone of worth. If we are looking at a person as someone of worth, we will invariably try to emulate that person as much as possible.

For example, if we see business leaders as individuals worthy of dignity, glory, distinction, honor, and renown, then we will undoubtedly try to become worthy ourselves by emulating the qualities and characteristics of those business leaders.

Or if we “worship” a particular form of art, we will seek opportunities to view, support, and participate in that form of art and in so doing, that art will shape us and we will become like it.

The Great Stone Face

Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrated this principle in a powerful, symbolic short story called The Great Stone Face. The story tells of a young man named Ernest who grows up in a small, rural town. On a mountain near the town, formed out of a cluster of rock, was the likeness of a giant man, a Great Stone Face.

For countless centuries, this Great Stone Face had overlooked the valley like a benevolent guardian. Everyone looked up to this Great Stone Face. Its “expression was at once grand and sweet, as if it were the glow of a vast, warm heart.”

We Become What We Worship
The Great Stone Face in New Hampshire

Local legend claimed that one day, the Great Stone Face would visit the people in the form of a man. When he appeared, the townsfolk would recognize him as “the greatest and noblest personage of his time.”

Young Ernest longed to meet this noble personage and eagerly anticipated his arrival. While waiting for this personage to appear, Ernest spends much of his time pondering about and learning from the Great Stone Face. Studying its greatness, Ernest is filled with wisdom and sympathies beyond that of any of his peers.

In time, Ernest became a preacher and encountered several individuals who were rumored to have the likeness of the Great Stone Face: a merchant, a general, a politician, and poet. Each of them have flaws in their nature that puts them at odds with the perceived character of Great Stone Face. Ernest begins to doubt that he will ever see the Great Stone Face personified.

We Become What We Worship

Many years pass and Ernest is asked to deliver one of his sermons at the base of the Great Stone Face. What followed is a beautiful testament to the fact that we become what we worship and admire:

Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his heart and mind. His words had power, because they accorded with his thoughts; and his thoughts had reality and depth, because they harmonized with the life which he had always lived. It was not mere breath that this preacher uttered; they were the words of life, because a life of good deeds and holy love was melted into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this precious draught…At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so imbued with benevolence, that [the crowd], by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms aloft and shouted,”Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!”

If you want to become more than you are, consider what you worship. That is, consider what it is to which you give your time, talents, and devotion. If you wish to be more than you are, look to God—the Great Stone Face in all our lives—and emulate His goodness.  

Starstuff Pondering Stars

Starstuff Pondering Stars

On January 28, 1986, the NASA space shuttle, Challenger, launched toward the heavens. Its mission was particularly significant to the press because one of its crew members was Christa McAuliffe. Mrs. McAuliffe was a schoolteacher who was chosen from among 11,000 applicants to take part in this exciting mission to space.

At the time of the launch, thousands of teachers and students were watching the event—excitedly cheering for one of their own. Christa’s parents watched the launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. 73 seconds into its flight, the Challenger unexpectedly broke apart—killing all seven of its crew members.

To Touch the Face of God

Following this tragedy, President Reagan delivered a speech from the Oval Office of the White House. In his address, he said this:

I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

He concluded his remarks with a quote by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., saying that the crew “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

The breakup of the Challenger.
The breakup of the Challenger.

Starstuff Pondering Stars

I was born on January 29, 1986, the day after the Challenger disaster.

When I was quite young, I remember seeing a picture of the explosion and asking my mother about it. She pointed to the smoke and said that it was “star smoke,” and that people “came from the stars.” She smiled at me and said that I “came from the stars the very next day.”

That had a profound effect on me. For years, I firmly believed that I came down from that “star smoke,” and that I—and everyone else—literally came from the stars.

But it’s actually true.

In reference to our bodies, Carl Sagan wrote that: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

On another occasion, Sagan said that we are “starstuff pondering stars.”

But I believe there’s more to it than that. I believe there is something eternal about our nature—about our spirits. Each of us is a divine, immortal child of God. That truth is sometimes spoken casually, but it is deeply profound.

The light, the potential, and immortality within us is far brighter than the moon or even the stars. As author Neal A. Maxwell once said: “You have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals . . . “

And that thought gives me immense hope. It helps me see light in the midst of terrible darkness or disasters. It is my hope to be more like my mother, to point at smoke and wreckage and see starstuff—to keep my eyes on heaven and, no matter what happens, “touch the face of God.”

The Beauty of Your Brokenness | Kintsugi

The Beauty of Your Brokenness | Kintsugi

This may surprise you, but if you are feeling tired and broken inside then you are probably in a very good place.

Don’t get me wrong, a prolonged feeling of brokenness can be unhealthy and damaging—but periodic feelings of brokenness are actually quite necessary for overall growth. We become stronger people when we are forced to reevaluate and rebuild our lives. J.K. Rowling once said that after she had experienced the depths of poverty, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

It is a strange truth, but the most beautiful things in life come from broken things within our lives.

Kintsugi

Kintsugi is a Japanese form of art where the the artisan repairs broken pottery using a lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. This process not only repairs what is broken, but it also accentuates and highlights the “imperfection.” The philosophy and symbolism behind the action is quite marvelous: Brokenness does not destroy the object. On the contrary, it adds history and value. In essence, the brokenness of the object is the very thing which makes the object more valuable.

Kintsugi Pottery

I have seen this process in my own life and in the lives of others. I have seen how my own painful experiences with depression have actually been transformed into lessons of hope which have helped others. I have watched some of my friends hit rock bottom and feel broken—and that brokenness has caused them reevaluate and rebuild their lives in marvelous ways. I see it happen in the lives of addicts who reach a point where they feel like their lives are beyond repair—until they start going to AA meetings and reach out to a higher power: the Master Artisan.

I love this quote by Vance Havner: “God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”

If you’re feeling broken, please know that you’re in an excellent place to rebuild your life. Look to the light and keep moving forward in faith. If you do, I promise that one day, your life—with all of it its imperfections—will be as beautiful as Kintsugi pottery.

Hope Changes Everything

Hope Changes Everything

My new novel, Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern, opens with what I can only describe as a dark, gloomy, and near-hopeless situation. It begins with a newborn baby boy being abandoned in a cemetery—left to die on a cold, October night.

But he doesn’t die, and I’ll tell you why.

When I started writing this book, in July of 2014, my original intent was for the main character (Rip) to be an orphan living on the streets of 18th century Boston. In that first draft, thirteen-year-old Rip was pulled into a swashbuckling adventure that took him to the Carolinas. In the beginning, I felt very confident about that story. But the more I wrote, the more I began to feel uneasy. I finished the first draft (50,000+ words) in just under three months… and I felt absolutely sick about it—but I didn’t know why! Here was a perfectly good, 50,000 word draft and for some unknowable reason, I felt like it was the wrong story.

I tried to convince myself that it was the right story, that it would somehow work—but I couldn’t. It was wrong; it was missing something—a COLOSSAL something. But I didn’t know what it was!

Ripped From the Grave

I agonized over the book for months, trying to figure out where I had gone wrong. Then, one night, after my illustrator showed me a sketch of a gravestone, I had a dream. I saw  a woman in Colonial American clothing. She was carrying a lantern and walking purposefully toward a graveyard at midnight. There, she met a living, pumpkin-headed scarecrow with kind eyes. He pointed her to an open grave and she peered down. I followed her gaze and saw, to my great surprise, a baby boy—he was as pale and as still as death. The woman lifted him from the grave and held him in her arms. At length, the boy began to stir and eventually woke up. He was alive!

Ripped from the grave.

I woke up and realized what was wrong with my book: Rip wasn’t an orphan. Yes, he was abandoned by his real parents, but he was found and given a second chance at life. He had an adoptive family, he had a belonging place—he had hope—and that changed everything.

 Hope Changes Everything

I immediately began rewriting the book, adding new characters and new events. My writing reached what I can only describe as a “fever pitch.” I felt driven—compelled to write by some outside force—and part of me couldn’t understand it. There was something in this book that needed to be said. I wrote five to six hours a day. I stopped blogging and nearly every other outside activity. Some days, I woke up at three or four in the morning just to ensure my writing time would be uninterrupted. Finishing the novel became my paramount goal. I could hardly think about or do anything else.  In time, I had managed to change the entire story—growing it from 50,000 words to 85,000+ words.

You see, hope truly does change everything.

And in the end, that’s what my novel is about: hope. Virtually everything in the book is a metaphor or a symbol for the power of hope—or the power of light over darkness. At a critical point in the story, when Rip is struggling to believe that there is hope, he is met by Feathertop, the same pumpkin-headed scarecrow from my dream. Feathertop (who represents far more than a simple scarecrow) tells Rip:

“Have faith, Rip. Believe in yourself, and believe in me—for in me there is always hope. No matter how dark things may seem, know that the sun will always rise. Light will always triumph over darkness.”

I am very grateful I struggled to write this book.  My struggle has deepened my belief in the power of hope—in the power of light over darkness. In the month since publishing my book, I have wrestled with feelings of hopelessness. But then I picture the opening scene of my book—a scene I dreamed, a scene I felt compelled to write, a scene of a little boy being brought back from the dead—and I think: yes, there is always hope—and that changes everything.

When A Loved One Commits Suicide

When A Loved One Commits Suicide

What do you do when a loved one commits suicide? What do you do? How do you pick up the pieces? How do you recover? How do you make sense of it all? If you are struggling with the loss of a loved one, author and speaker, Ganel-Lyn Condie, has some heartfelt advice.

When A Loved One Commits Suicide

When Ganel-Lyn learned about her sister’s suicide, she said it felt “like a bowling ball smashed into my heart, then fell with a thud to my stomach.” She says that the grief caused by suicide is “a different kind of grief.” It lingers, tears at the heart, and creates questions that lead to a very dark place.

And yet, in the time since her sister’s suicide, Ganel-Lyn has learned some powerful insights about healing and moving forward. While there are no quick remedies for grief, it is Ganel-Lyn’s firm belief “that hope is never lost.”

Ganel-Lyn Condie is the author of I Can Do Hard Things With God, and devotes much of her time to speaking and writing about hope. She and I connected through an article she had written last year (4 Lessons of Hope I Learned From My Sister’s Suicide) and we quickly became friends. Her insights about having faith and hope amid life’s challenges are incredible, to say the least. In the summer of 2015, I drove 12 hours (through the night) just to interview her—and I’m so grateful I did.

Below is a portion of my interview with Ganel-Lyn. If you are struggling with grief related to suicide, please take the time to watch this video. As someone who has struggled with feelings of hopelessness, I found a lot of comfort in the words of Ganel-Lyn.