We're taught as we are brought up in our western culture, "You can be anything you want to be". Success stories often herald people who have overcome the obstacles of a difficult upbringing or disadvantaged birth to make a new life for themselves. People often blame their emotional problems on bad parenting. It seems these days it is impossible to bring up your children without a fear of scarring them for life! Our individualistic society has taught us to leave your upbringing and your generational inheritance behind. Friends have become more important than family, with the increase in broken family units and fragmented community.
Watching the popular TV series "Who Do You Think You Are", where celebrities are helped to research their family tree, I have been struck by the way every person has been deeply affected by the discoveries they have made about their ancestors. Most begin the programme with scepticism at worst, or at best a detached interest. I have not seen a single person untouched by the history that is uncovered.
In an effort to understand why this process had such an unexpected impact on people who have mostly made successes out of their own effort in spite of their pasts, I decided to do a little family tree research myself. I think I have discovered why the process of understanding our family heritage is so important.
I was astounded firstly by how much hardship my ancestors endured. The deaths of children, the loss of income, illness and war, long sea journeys and being parted permanently from loved ones. I began to realise as I accumulated stories of the daily lives of my family that there was a treasure there that I had not expected. I saw that they had fought battles in the the past and won. They were not only examples to me, but they had built up an inheritance for me of experience and victory in trial. I realised that if they could do what they did, I could too! After all, they were endowed with the same genetic pool as I am. So physically and mentally they were working with very much the same materials as I have. Their environment was much more difficult to live in, their history was more tragic, their culture was more demanding. They did not have the benefits and comforts of modern life. So if they could make it through what they did, I surely can do even better!
My overall impression was of being part of a unified movement of people towards an ultimately common goal - living life to its fullest. I no longer want to start from scratch as our culture encourages us to do when we come of age. I want to use the collected experience of my ancestors as a springboard for my life. They have an inheritance to pass down, which is not material, but spiritual. They have fought battles against unseen enemies and won. How foolish it would be to fight those battles again because I would not accept that their victory is my victory! The Bible has the theme of inheritance running right through it from beginning to end. Even Jesus was listed in a long genealogy in the book of Matthew. If it was important that he was placed in a context of a family tree, it must be important for us to understand the legacy of our own families.
I would like to pass this on to my own children - that they are part of a common thread of humanity, with all its successes and failings, and that what better place to learn about life than the stories and experiences of our own families. What an inspiration they are to me in my life. I encourage you to discover the treasure that is your inheritance!