A dear friend is doing genealogy research to learn about his birth father. He seeks to fill in the missing pieces about a part of his family that remains a mystery. The limited information known so far has painted a dysfunctional picture, but this has not deterred him from the search. He wonders what features and characteristics he carries from his dad and his extended family. What skeletons will he find in the closet as he explores the family tree? How will finding this black sheep in the family change his perception of his identity?
Knowing where we come from is powerful, and not knowing is mysterious. We want to unravel the mystery to see if our ancestors were heroes or villains or victims or pioneers. Genealogy TV shows abound as people explore how they got to be where they are. Sometimes our family stories are mundane, and sometimes dramatic. Yet at some point, we discover the reality that all the people in our tree are imperfect people living in a broken world. We might fantasize the best and imagine the worst, but eventually we face the reality that everyone in it is only human. While their stories shape our story, they do not define our identity.
My heart has been worried for my friend. I want him to know peace and joy in today, and I fear the old pain that unearthing this chapter might hold for him. I understand his desire to know the truth and discover his roots, and yet facing the truth isn’t always pleasant. I don’t want him to let the discovery of his birth father hold too much sway over his life. There is loss connected to this relationship that will most certainly require lament—there is both the loss of not knowing, and the potential loss of being disappointed with the truth. Our hearts break when those we love experience the brokenness of this fallen world. I pray that that my friend grieves these losses well and that he never loses sight of where his true identity lies.
Finding out about our family history is formative. We wonder what characteristics of the earlier generations we carry with us in our own lives. And yet the stories of our past do not get to define who we truly are. We all bear the image of God and are loved by the Father who knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). Regardless of where our lives have wandered, God has drawn us close through the gift of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are brought into God’s family and loved with everlasting love that will never fail us. In fact, we can have confidence that nothing will ever come between us and his love.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
I can see the threads of heartache woven into the life of my friend, but I am confident that God is at work redeeming the wounds. God’s economy wastes nothing, he takes the pain of our past and uses it to bless us and others. My friend is a man of character who is not defined by the sins of the past. Our God who began a good work in him is carrying his life on to completion (Philippians 1:6). I celebrate how God has worked through the broken circumstances of his life to create a person of such integrity and joy.
So while searching through the family tree may provide some closure to some unanswered questions, there is reassurance that we are never walking alone. God walks with us through the messiness of life and he cares about every tear that falls. God has given us our identity and his unfailing love will redeem every bit of the brokenness in our stories.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Travis Jamieson