Memorial Day is upon us, and I think for most of it the holiday conjures up thoughts of barbecues, the beginning of summer – and of course, an extra day off work! We know academically of course that Memorial Day is about remembering those who have died in defense of our country, but I don’t think we always take the time to really ponder that amidst all the pre-summer fun, and I know I have been guilty of that too.
However, we live in a turbulent time in America today. Though we often skip over these little holidays without a lot of thought, Memorial Day is a day that is apolitical and uniting when we take time to actually observe what it means. There is not a lot that unifies us in the current cultural and political climate, and for that reason, I think Memorial Day is more important than ever at this time in history.
America was the first country to declare that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were given to us by God, not by government. The rights of every person before this were at the mercy of whoever was in political power, but America stood up and drew a line for government. Those early Americans believed in these God-given rights, they fought a war to defend them and establish a country that would hopefully honor them, and many gave their lives then.
Many years later, the principles of the divinely granted right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness became more and more ingrained in Americans until many could no longer watch men and women enslaved just because of the color of their skin. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the Civil War began, and many gave their lives then.
When dictators rose up and tormented millions in the World Wars, attempting to spread their rule, Americans knew that our very core of these God-given set of rights was being threatened, and we came to realize that these rights needed to be defended again. And many more gave their lives so we could remain free.
Memorial Day was established in 1968, following the Civil War, as a day to decorate the graves of those who had died in the defense of our country and freedom. Most of the states followed quickly in adopting the holiday. The red poppies that are associated with Memorial Day originally began because of the work and poem by Moina Michael, who sold poppies and sent the money to help servicemen. She wrote
“We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.” (source)
The VFW eventually took up the red poppies that we see passed out on Memorial Day to remind us of the fallen.
Our kids need to grow up hearing these stories. They need to be reminded that they live in a country where they can do, and think, and practice their religion as they please because of a legacy of sacrifice. America is free today, America is unique in being founded on the recognition of God-given rights, but that all came at a price. We didn’t have to pay it.
The Bible says, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Our kids should already have a concept of this, because isn’t that what Jesus did for us? He died to free us from the burden of our sin, which would even be a more lasting enslavement than men suffer on earth. Memorial Day can be a powerful reminder of what Christ did for us, as we are surrounded by tangible examples of sacrifice in remembering what our countrymen have also done for us. The sacrifice of Americans for our freedom is another reflection of the sacrifice of Jesus for our ultimate freedom. Many, many men have laid down their lives so we can live in freedom today, physically in America. And One died and conquered death so we could live in the freedom of His grace, for all eternity.
These sacrifices deserve to be honored on Memorial Day, and I want to make sure not to let them get lost in the midst of barbecues and pool parties. Books like God Bless Our Country can be a cute jumping-off point to start talking with our small children about Memorial Day, and every history lesson can be an opportunity to remind our children of what it took to make us free.
I’m still thinking of other tangible ways to demonstrate this for my kids, but I think one of the best things we can do is what I’m trying to do here – speak about this legacy of sacrifice to them, so they know that their freedom came at a price, paid by these men that gave their lives for us. And on Memorial Day, our family will be making time to pray and thank God for these men who have defended and preserved our freedom by giving everything they had.
What or who are you remembering this Memorial Day?