We all have a beginning – a start date. There was a time when we were not. This fact is frequently brought back to me as I listen to my children. Young as they are, they are fascinated by their birth stories. They find it hard to think there was a time before them. I find it difficult too. They want to find their place in the story.
Adults too are fascinated by our past, and in particular the past of our ancestors. The story of how we came to be is after all not just our story but the story of those who came before us and, directly or indirectly, caused us to be instead of not.
Why do children love to hear about their beginnings? Why do we as adults desire to learn about not just our personal pasts, but the history of our families? I believe we are fascinated by the journey. We want to see how far we have come from Point A. We may not yet have reached Point B, or even know what Point B is, but we want to see progress.
It is as if we are climbing a high mountain. Looking ahead it seems to continue forever. But, just then, as we think we may never reach the top, we turn slightly and gaze over our shoulder. We see valleys that have fallen away beneath us; the paths must have people on them but they are too far away to see. Messy, cluttered landscapes and scattered buildings have a clean, colorful symmetry from this height. We look back at the winding path that brought us here. Then we think that of how far we have come, not how far is left to go. The young school child wonders that she was once a helpless baby like her younger sibling. The young professional imagines his grandparents toiling over rocky soil to eke out a meager living. The new parent marvels that she was once as new to the world as the child in her arms; the new grandparent that his child is now responsible for that young life.
The sense of progress, of becoming, is part of what it is to be human. That is why despair and hopelessness can set in when our lives fall into a rut; the pain of not becoming, of not achieving, of falling short. The pain of thinking we are about to reach the summit only to have the earth crumble away beneath us, or discovering there are heights that we cannot reach.
We have a sense of becoming – not a sense of repetition of what has gone before; a sense of purpose, a desire to leave a mark on something or someone. If we are simply part of an unending circle of life our dreams of progress are at best a source of frustration.
The Bible tells us there is a purpose for our lives. (1) That we are not meant merely to be born, work, procreate and die. Life has meaning. There is hope.
(1) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jermiah 29:1 (New International Version).