Altars and The ‘Peak End’ Rule.

Welcome to 2021!!

We are so fortunate here in New Zealand to be able to gather in groups, to have been able to celebrate both Christmas and New Years in big ways and small ways, publicly and privately. We can move around our country, visit different parts and there is no community spread of a certain virus at the moment. We don’t take it for granted, and our heartfelt thoughts and prayers do go out to those of you whose lives are still very much restricted because of the pandemic.

Last year those of us in Auckland had two periods of very strict lockdown conditions. Time to stay at home (with outings only for provisions or exercise), time for online learning and time to work solely from home. During both these times I remember very clearly this great hunger in my heart that grew and grew; I didn’t want to hear about all the things I could do to help myself, the stubborn and pigheaded me didn’t want to even consider one more thing to add to my list of ‘should be doings’ the endless lists of demands on my attention and time, instead, I yearned to be told of stories of God’s faithfulness, of His provision, of His marvelous and miraculous deeds both in the present and in the past. I had this intense need for all the things that feed my mind and soul to be highlighting this – I found over time that I had to go digging for this more than the reminders just presented themselves to me. The fact that I had this keen need or desire has bugged me for a while. Why was that so important to me then, and why is it still so important to me now?

And. By joves. I think I’ve cracked it.

We celebrated the coming of the New Year with a bunch of friends, a delicious lamb on a spit (sorry vegetarians, but it was yum) and some great conversation. One of the conversations that stood out for me was a couple who shared with us of God’s provision and kindness when their business was facing a rough time and big changes in circumstance because of covid. But. God provided. Where there was no way, God made a way. While there had still been worry and stress – there was an underlying peace because this couple trusted God. And God came through. Not just in a way that could look like a fortunate series of coincidences, but in ‘detailed, only He could orchestrate’ ways.

Listening to their story encouraged my faith. Listening to their story reminded me of God’s goodness. Listening to their story reminded me of my own covid-sucks-but-God-is-still-in-control stories.

And reminded me, yes, we need to share our stories.

Over and over and over again, we need to aim the spotlight at God’s provisions. We need to shout from the rooftops of His goodness.

The scriptures; writings about God, have over four hundred references to altars in them. Altars in this sense were physical structures upon which sacrifices were made. Altars were also built to commemorate encounters with the Lord – a way to memorialize the work that God has done in them. Altars helped future generations to remember the Lord.

This aiming the spotlight at examples of God’s provisions, this shouting from the rooftops of His goodness that I’ve got this bee in my bonnet about, that I really want to open my instagram feed to see and be reminded of, from all the sources I respect and allow to feed into my life – this, I think, is the modern day way of making our altars. Life has changed so much since the scriptures were written – the altars of yesterday are our stories of today. Along with the beautiful altars we see in our churches of today, I believe that altars are also the things that we share in public and in private. The news that we broadcast. The songs that we sing. The photos that we share. The narratives that we highlight. These are our altars.

The altars that were important back in biblical times, just like the stories of God being the hero, the one who makes a way where there is no other way, these things are just as important in these times, especially when the things we used to take for granted can no longer be taken for granted. Last year for our church we had just as many services held via an online format, as we were able to hold in person. Coming into 2020 we never ever thought that would be a thing. But a thing it was.

I’ve taken this altar/story sharing business stuff a step further, because I was keen to find out….why do we need reminders? Why can’t we just remember the good for ourselves? Well. It turns out our brains just aren’t wired that way.

The brain gives us two ways to evaluate experiences like suffering – there is how we apprehend such experiences in the moment and how we look at them afterward. And these two ways are deeply contradictory. Nobel Prize-winning researcher Daniel Kahneman has termed something called the ‘Peak-End Rule’.

In short, we have two selves – one that endures every moment equally and a remembering self who gives almost all the weight of judgement to two single points in time – the worst moment and the last moment. Whatever happens in the last moment of an experience, seems to stick in our memories.

This phenomenon applies just the same way to how people rate pleasureable experiences. The ending can ruin the whole experience, even if the experiencing self had hours of pleasure, even if the remembering self sees no pleasure at all.

So if the experiencing self and the remembering self can come to radically different opinions about the same experience, then the question is which one do we listen to? That’s why we need the reminders……we need to share the stories of God at work in our lives. We need to urge each other on to take risks, to paths of obedience, knowing that God is for us and not against us. Yes, God was with us in the worst moment of an experience, and in the last moment, but He was also with us for the all the time in between, all the time we won’t remember in the future. This is where my faith is built and challenged and strengthened.

Last year, because of covid I began to feel very uncomfortable in one of my jobs. I felt redundant, not necessary, surplus to requirement and began to wonder where my skills and passions really lay……it was a hard time, it was an unhappy time, but in that time, because of the very things that caused me to feel all sorts of yuck, those same circumstances were causing someone else to become freed up – to seek employment in the very things that I was feeling someone else could do better. Don’t you think that’s a God thing? While I was unhappy and asking some huge questions about the direction of my life and career for the next little while, someone else was made available to step in where I wanted to step out.

That’s our God.

I’d love to hear your stories of God’s perfect timing, His protection, His goodness in the last little while for you. As we celebrate the beginnings on a new year we know that the global pandemic is not just going to go away overnight, yet, we can celebrate in the knowledge that we are not alone. We have a God who cares for us, who is in the very details of each and every one of our lives. Please feel free to log in and leave a comment to spur others on, or add a comment in my facebook post. Let’s help our brains to remember long term – He cares, He is with us in the ending and the beginnings and all the in betweens.

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