Every time I eat a banana, I think of my dog.
This isn’t quite as strange as it sounds, really. My dog loves bananas, and I always give her the bottom tip when I’m eating one. This habit formed so automatically that I don’t even realize I am doing it until I am someplace without my dog. Then I suddenly find myself with a piece of banana between my fingers and no place to put it.
Associations are funny like that, seemingly coming out of nowhere to remind us of something completely unrelated. But even when they seem to form without our knowledge, we ultimately do have the choice where we direct our minds. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that every morning you have the choice of waking up and saying “Good morning, God!” or “Good God, morning!”
I have a friend whose infant daughter used to wake up so joyfully that she would clap her hands as she awoke. We discussed at length whether she was so joyful that she clapped her hands, or whether clapping her hands made her joyful. In the end, I decided to put the association to the test. The next morning, once my alarm drilled into my consciousness, I pulled my hands from beneath the covers and clapped. This did not fill me with immense joy. However, a few minutes later as I stumbled out the door for our morning walk, I spotted a dollar lying in the parking lot. No kidding! Perhaps I was onto something with this clapping thing.
The next morning, as soon as my alarm buzzed, I yanked my hands over my head and clapped vigorously. That morning on our walk I nearly got struck by lightning from a storm that came up out of nowhere. After that, I stopped clapping.
Apparently some associations need to be handled carefully, but God tells us there are some associations that truly can fill us with joy. The Bible is full of them. I think of the psalmist who says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). Have you ever seen a sunset, a sweeping horizon, or one of those brilliant blue skies that makes you actually pause and stare? This is what the psalmist was talking about: awe at our surroundings that bring to mind the awesome wonders of our God.
Or there’s Paul who wrote to the Philippians (1:3), “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” Have you ever felt like that? A phone call from a close friend. A chance encounter with an acquaintance that cheered your day. Have you ever thanked God for the love he shows you through the family and friends surrounding you?
Or maybe you feel the opposite of God’s love: empty, fearful, in pain, lonely. Like the psalmist you cry out “My soul is downcast within me…” But notice his next words: “therefore I will remember you…” (Psalm 42:6). Even during those times when a dark blanket seems to surround us, that very darkness can remind us of God.
There are all kinds of associations around us. Some are positive (my dog is cute and fuzzy). Some are negative (for years I couldn’t eat bananas because they reminded me of this nasty banana-flavored medicine I used to take). Some are just plain strange (have you ever had the urge to clap with joy when your alarm goes off?) But the most important associations are those that point to God’s presence. It could be anything from a banana to a lightning storm. It could be something that forms in a moment of spontaneous awe or something you have to consciously use to remind yourself of God’s presence. But it is there. Look around you. Listen. There is something or someone – or maybe nothing at all – right there to remind you. Because even when you don’t see Him directly, God is near. And that’s an association worth knowing.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord…I will meditate on all your works… (Psalm 77:11-12)