I don’t know when I first began to comprehend that how I lived my life could leave a heritage for the generations that come after me. Maybe it was some time after I began to have kids and realised those 4 pairs of eyes and ears saw and heard so much of who I really was, taking it all in to their own souls to map out possibilities for their future. Maybe it was when I began to pastor a church and was struggling to grasp the awful responsibility of leading some people who, despite my glaring weaknesses and inadequacies, were taking what I said as the gospel for them, even though it was so often not Jesus’ Gospel of grace and love. Scary!
A heritage is something of value that passes from one generation to the next. Not all families inherit money or property but everyone inherits personal characteristics from their ancestors. Often what is passed on is intangible, hidden; latent talents that are only discovered in times of need, like leadership giftings and caring skills.
I know my gifting as a writer was bequeathed to me as a heritage from someone who lived 400 years ago. John Bunyan, that great church reformer of the 17th century who wrote a powerful guidebook for Christians journeying to the Celestial City, was my ancestor. Beverley Bunyan wasn’t the most beautiful of names but there was something about it that I loved even before I understood that my distant relationship with John had a greater heritage attached to it even than the precious gift of writing which I was beginning to discover. My family didn’t value the faith behind Pilgrim’s Progress, but we valued the fact that we had descended from one who was willing to suffer extreme hardship and injustice for a cause much greater than himself, and we valued his powerful gift of communication.
John Bunyan was a non-conformist. At the time, that word was profanity to a lot of people, conjuring up fear and hatred as the society strove through periods of unrest and civil wars to resolve not only who would rule them but also how they would worship. The national church of the day was legalistic and licentious and there were those, John among them, who risked their necks to to worship God in obedience to His Word. He spent 12 years in prison for refusing to stop preaching the Gospel of Christ.
So often God’s triumphs come disguised as failure – those years were the most prolific writing years of his life. The Pilgrim’s Progress became the most purchased book after the Bible for the next two hundred years. It has never been out of print and continues even now to teach and train anyone with the stamina to read a 400-year-old book.
non-conformist. My reputation was established even before I knew there was such a thing, or that it ran in my family. My report cards consistently came home from school saying ‘Beverley is highly intelligent but will not conform.’ Standing in front of my parents as they questioned the comment, I had no idea what it was that I was doing that I shouldn’t be doing, or not doing that I should be doing. I was just being me.
I still am.
When I became a Christian and read The Pilgrim’s Progress, I was awestruck at the revelation this multiple-great granddad of mine had. His wonderful description of the Slough of Despond showed me that others also got stuck in the quicksand of depression and confusion as they struggled to change how they lived. Vanity Fair and the giant’s Doubting Castle and legalism and the Hill of Difficulty and so many other places that Christian encountered were familiar to me… as they are to every person who makes the choice to go alone on that journey to their King.
It’s so easy to turn back; there are so many places that seem impassable and impossible. But I’ve been on that journey just about 40 years now, since I was a young woman struggling to understand how to change the way I’d been acting and thinking, and yet still fit with a marriage, family, friends, job…normal life!
I’ve had my own quicksands in which I lost all sense of direction, my own castles of doubt and fear that I thought I would never escape from. I know what it is to pass through Vanity Fair and be alternately aghast and attracted by what is offered to me. I’ve had my share of lions and legalism and loss, I’ve battled Apollyon and won only because of the sword of God’s Word in my mouth. I’ve known Ignorance and Pliable and Obstinate as my companions and I’ve been sidetracked more times than I can say.
Becoming a person who can leave a worthy heritage for those who come after me isn’t easy. Who I am has had to be changed… and changed… and changed even more, so that who I become is someone that others can follow long after I’ve reached my destination and my name is forgotten by all. This narrow rutted path the pilgrim walks can become a road for other pilgrims to not only follow, but also to build on and develop, because it’s not just about getting there yourself, but about making the way more secure for those who come after you. That’s a heritage.
The truth is that those frightening seasons, my fights and my failures, pale into insignificance in comparison to the rich and fruitful legacies that have been handed onto me by the friends who have taken the roles of Bunyan’s characters in my life. I have known Goodwill, the gatekeeper who turned out to be Jesus Himself directing me on my path, and met so many Evangelists who have shown me the way again and again. God has graciously led me so often to the homes of Interpreters who have helped me understand the things that confuse and confound me, and I have been directed to that wondrous Cross where my crushing burdens have rolled away, never to be seen again. I’ve been nurtured in some wonderful House Beautifuls – local church congregations who have loved, affirmed, helped and encouraged me. I have known many, many Faithfuls and Hopefuls up close and personal who have strengthened my resolve to complete my journey and reach that beautiful Holy City we can see in the distance.
Without some of those companions on the journey who were right there by my side just when I needed them, I may never have made it this far. For them I am more grateful than I can ever say. (I hope you know who you are.) There are so many anonymous people who have walked with me at times and cheered me on at others, who have prayed and cared and lived in a way that is determined to bequeath their own heritages for others as well as me to be healed, restored and strengthened.
To pass on a godly heritage you don’t have to write a great book or preach a great sermon. It’s in living the Book and being the sermon that the message, the legacy of love and grace, is passed onto a new generation. That can’t happen to the conformist because the gruelling process of morphing into a new creation means choosing to let go of so many things that our people group hold dear, in order to gain that which is much dearer. It requires a deliberate choice to live differently from some of those around you, to walk a narrow and often treacherous road. It means not conforming to this world but allowing your mind to be changed, even transformed, so that the things you value and care about are different from what they used to be. Leaving a heritage of faith and hope in Christ is inestimably more powerful and incredible than the greatest gift of money or fortune.
One of the greatest underlying forces for good and for God in my life is the certain awareness that the generations who come after me will be shaped, to little or to great extent, by what I do and say; that who I am can leave a legacy of faith that will strengthen lives and change destinies. I want to live in a way that imprints Jesus Christ into the lives around me so that even those who never heard my name will be different because I was alive.
Now that would be a heritage worth passing on!
Originally Published in SheLovesMagazine September Edition