Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The High Standards of One's Ancestry

I'm thinking tonight about family histories.  I was corresponding with my friend, Marge, today about family history.  Her husband's family is from the rural Oklee community, but Joe and I know Marge and Ernie from our Mankato days.  Joe knows them from as long ago as his undergraduate studies at Bethany Lutheran College; and I from our time there during Joe's seminary years, and also when he later worked and taught at Bethany. 

Although I did not know Marge and Ernie well at the time we lived in Mankato, now, due to this marvelous thing called social networking, I enjoy the blessing of friendship with Marge.  We share many interests.  I love to see her pictures on the blog she keeps, of her lovely flowers and gardens, and also her household projects and accomplishments such as cooking, canning, and quilting.  I enjoy reading of her travels; and her adventures with and joy in her extensive family.  And I'm thankful for her voice of comfort and support in my vocation of motherhood.  She has built me up many times with her kind words.

But today we talked family history.  It started when Marge posted on facebook remembering and honoring the life of her late mother-in-law, Alma Fore Lillo.  Throughout the day, we exchanged a few messages about the Fore family connections up this way. 

I love family history.  And not just my family, but the histories of others.  I love to hear the stories of those who have gone before us.  I am often inspired by their courage and tenacity.  There are also many times I'm saddened by their tragedies and heartaches.  I am built up by the faith to which they clung, through thick and thin.

But often, I'm also shamed by my failures as compared to the valiant tales of such ancestors.  One of my constant challenges is to turn that shame into a good thing.  Into being inspired to do better and work harder, rather than being crushed by a self-imposed burden of comparison. 

I remember learning this poem when I was young. 
If You Could See Your Ancestors
By Nellie Winslow Simmons Randall

If you could see your ancestors
All standing in a row,
Would you be proud of them or not?
Or don't you really know?
Some strange discoveries are made
In climbing family trees.
And some of them, you know,
Do not particularly please.

If you could see your ancestors
All standing in a row,
There might be some of them perhaps
You shouldn't care to know.
But here's another question
Which requires a different view -
If you could meet your ancestors
Would they be proud of you?
See, and there's rub, right?  "Would they be proud of you [me]?  Hmmm.  The million dollar question.

I often feel the burden of living up to the standards of those who have gone before.  Sometimes that burden is Biblical, to live up to God's standards, as set forth in His Word and as passed on to me by my family.  And well I should be so burdened.  But along with the burden of God's perfect Law, my ancestors also passed on to me the joy of salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I will never live up to the standards of God's Law.  But I am pure and white, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.  May I ever hold to that One Thing Needful, God's Word, and use it for a guide in how I judge myself and what I pass on to my children!

But there is also a second kind of standard.  Those are the man-made standards.  Many of these are wise and good.  Many of these serve a societal purpose such as effecting a common courtesy, or providing structure and order in our households and neighborhoods.  Some provide efficiency and cleanliness in our homes and yards. 

But these standards vary from place to place and from time to time; from family to family and from community to community.  It often seems to me that these are the sorts of standards that often cause the biggest rifts between people.  They cause the most frequent hard feelings, and self-righteous judging of our neighbors.

But for me, such standards also tend to cause unnecessary guilt in my life.  I tend to beat myself up for not being able to live up to the standards, real or imagined, to which I feel I must perform.  I have to remind myself, as Paul did the Romans, to not give up on the freedom won for me by Jesus.  To not put myself into bondage under the law.

Thanks be to God who has freed me from such burdens and guilt.  Jesus' perfect life and sacrificial death cleansed me from all my real and concrete sins; those things I failed and constantly fail to do that I ought to do, and also those things I ought not to have done that I did and still do constantly.  Jesus cleansed me from the innate stain of sin on my very nature, that more subtle evil that pervades human nature.  But He also freed me from the obligation and guilt of standards that are of my own human fabrication. 

I praise Him for His goodness!  I thank Him for giving me the gift of faith in Him, through the tradition passed on to me from my ancestors, and through His Word and Sacraments at church and in the home.  I ask Him to guide and direct my ways that I never forsake the One Thing Needful, the message of salvation through Jesus.  As long as I've got that covered, it matters not how well I live up to any other standards I've put upon myself by comparison to my forebears.

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