For Youth Workers Post

Back in the Day

Steve Matthews

“In the Habit” session for devozine meditations for May 6–12, 2013.


“It is mid-March in Virginia as I write this, and spring has been slow in coming. This past week, we were surprised by a late winter snow storm that brought seven inches of wet snow, 30-mile-per-hour winds, and power outages. I was without power for a little more than a day. I live in a 100-year-old farmhouse that is heated chiefly by a woodstove, so heating and cooking were not issues. The major inconvenience was that the well pump wouldn’t work, so I had no water. And of course, life became a bit more difficult when it got dark; oil lamps are not nearly as bright as light bulbs.

“Some might say that experiences like these harken back to the good old days, when life was more simple, when neighbors helped one another with daily tasks and people sat around oil lamps and told stories. The 27 hours I spent without power did remind me of the way my grandmother lived most of her life. She raised six children in a four-room house and cooked over a wood stove until 1969. It was a simpler and, in some ways, enviable time; but it was also a hard life. Cutting wood, growing food, raising farm animals, and caring for six children takes a lot of energy. Once my grandmother had the means to secure a better life, she never pined for earlier days. Aside from the physical demands, it was socially difficult. Appalachia in my grandmother’s day was hard on women. They often felt powerless, and their prescribed roles limited their options. Not everything back in the day was easy or enviable.

“When we think about life back then, we see the importance of honoring the experiences of our spiritual ancestors and listening for what we might learn from our foremothers and forefathers. Their stories may be entertaining, but listening to their stories may also help us recognize how their experience of life has shaped us—the people we are today and the people we are becoming.

“Those who have come before us helped to shape us, but their influence is not our destiny. We listen and learn from their successes and failures, but the Spirit is always hovering over our lives and beckoning us to new places and new adventures of life that are unique to our gifts and our time.” —Steve


devozine Steve Matthews IMG_0433

Steve Matthews
was a youth minister for more than fifteen years. At present, he is living in central Virginia on a small farm with a cat, a dog, and sixteen chickens. He loves growing his own food as well as cooking and eating it. Steve is working as a spiritual director and a consultant in the area of Contemplative Approaches to Ministry. He was also a writer for The Way of Pilgrimage: An Adventure in Spiritual Formation for the Next Generation.


  • an oil lamp or candle
  • matches
  • a photo album or digital photos of your family (hopefully including previous generations)
  • a copy or computer image of a cairn
  • Bibles (or copies of Joshua 4:19–24)
  • a basket or bowl of stones (enough stones so that each person can have three)
  • copies of the closing prayer (see “Sharing in Prayer”)
  • Print-Friendly Version of this Session


  •  A way to introduce the topic might be to show the opening of the first episode of The Waltons. Some of the group members may know of this series, even if they’ve never seen it. In the opening sequence, the father of the family brings new technology—the family’s first radio—into the depression era home. The clip might stimulate some discussion on whether or not life was better “back in the day.”
  • Whale Rider is a great film that highlights both the good and the harm that comes from adhering to traditions. The lead character is a young adolescent Maori girl, named Paikea, who seems to know that she is destined for leadership. As the movie unfolds, Paikea shows both humility and determination as she continues to honor her traditions and her destiny, even as the guardians of tradition seek to discourage her. If you have time, watch the whole movie with your group; or watch this trailer.


Begin with an opening ritual, a moment of silence, or a short prayer the group says together. Light the candle or lamp you have provided. Begin showing some of the pictures you have brought. Briefly recall a few family stories. Include in your own story one way that your family or your tradition (ethnic, religious, socioeconomic) has influenced you for the good and one way that the past has created challenges for you.

Dim the lights in the room and remind the group that back in the day, telling stories was a form of entertainment as well as a connection to other people and to previous generations. Invite group members to tell the same kind of stories that you told, including experiences and influences that are both affirming and challenging. Encourage people to listen to one another prayerfully and without comment.


Scripture: Joshua 4:19–24

Before literacy was common in our cultures, people developed creative ways to remember important events and teachings. Invite group members to recall ways that human beings have recorded history (such as cave drawings, stained glass, poetry, music) and have helped both present and future generations remember critical life lessons. In Joshua 4:19–24, a cairn (see photo) becomes both a physical and spiritual marker, a way of remembering God’s faithfulness to future generations.

Invite group members to read the scripture aloud. Then ask these questions:

          What event were the people remembering? Why was it important to remember? (Crossing the Jordan is a culminating event. The Israelites have been wandering in the desert for decades, and they are finally on the brink of entering the land promised to them. Their long journey is nearly over.)
          Imagine the story. What was it like to be there? What did the people experience? How did they feel?
          What, do you imagine, were some of the stories they told of their life back in the day?
          When have you and other people marked the significance of an important event?

Have available a basket or bowl of stones. Invite group members to think of people (living or dead) or traditions that have helped to mold them into who they are. After a period of silent reflection, invite people to select one or more of the stones, each to represent one life-shaping event. Encourage group members to tell about the person or story represented by each stone. After the stories are told, invite people to stack the rocks to form a cairn, which will remain in your meeting space as a symbol of God’s faithfulness in your lives.


Invite group members to read silently through this prayer from “Inspiration Pilgrimage,” and then ask them to read it aloud responsively:

Prayers before Setting out on a Pilgrimage

God of the guiding star, the bush that blazes,
        show us your way.
God of the stormy seas, the bread that nourishes,
        teach us your truth.
God of the still, small voice, the wind that blows where it chooses,
        fill us with life.
God of the elements, of our inward and outward journeys,
        set our feet on your road today.
        May God bless us with a safe journey.
        May the angels and saints travel with us.
        May we live this day in justice and joy. Amen.



Show the trailer to the movie Whale Rider. Ask group members to talk about how God is nudging them to use their gifts and abilities. How is God’s call linked to their heritage? How is the Spirit asking them to transcend the traditional confines of family and tradition?

—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2013). Copyright © 2013 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.
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