A LIST IS A HUMBLE THING, more dull than not, the basic workhorse of our everyday plans and aspirations. Lists help us navigate everything from “to do’s” to groceries. Living on scraps of paper, tucked within purses and pockets, they earn their keep but aren’t the stuff of poetry, unless you’re Marilyn McEntyre (the poet and author of Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts , Eerdmans 2018). For most of us, lists are practical, and take place behind the scenes.

In her four-session Winter/Spring 2023 Bible study (see the first two installments on p. 22, 36), Pastor Christa von Zychlin explores how God elevates the ordinary list, gifting the Israelites with the Ten Words, which most Christians know as the Ten Commandments. While some may have associated this list with anger, fear or shame, Pastor von Zychlin helps us look at, in her words, the “biblical tradition of embracing the Ten Commandments as God calling us into a relationship of goodness and delight, with practical, real world implications.”

We see some of these implications in reflections by Elise Seyfried (p. 12) and Jennifer Ginn (p. 44), where God’s list functions a bit like a GPS (maybe in this case, a G od Positioning System) to help us navigate the everchanging map of our lives and our call to love God and our neighbor. Loving our neighbors is no small investment, as we learn from Kathryn Haueisen’s story (p. 18) about an Ohio congregation that decides to sponsor a refugee family, making all the difference for years to come.

Along with other stories, this magazine issue also considers the Christian belief that our true worth rests in our identity as children of God. Yet we live in a society that sees beauty, wealth, skill, power and fame as determinants of whether one deserves a good life. The effects of this can be damaging, especially for women and girls, as we see from writings by Dorothy Probst (p. 5), Kristina Diaz (p. 6) and Karris G olden (p. 9) who share some of their own experiences with social judgments and God’s redeeming love. Pastor Catherine Malotky ’s column (p. 48) offers helpful clarity here as well.

The thing is, even with the commandments, there’s a temptation to get off track, thinking that if we can just get better at something, we’ll be more worthy of love or more deserving of God’s blessings.

Instead, Pastor von Zychlin wants us to see God’s list as a gift. Not something to be checked off.

Something to inspire us. A gift less about our shortfalls, and more about how God is with us for the long haul. A gift not of how close to perfect we can come, but a gift from God, who in perfect love, comes close to us.

God has given us the gift of a list. And it’s a list of ways to make a gift of our own lives. If for no
other reason than that the love God first gave to us is the only gift we have that is truly worth giving.
I don’t think I’ll ever look at the Ten Commandments the same way again.

Elizabeth Hunter serves as editor of Gather. A lifelong Lutheran, she enjoys sharing stories with family, walking in the woods and kayaking along rivers where a quiet peace can be found.

This article appears in the January/February 2023 issue. To read more articles like it, subscribe to Gather.