Every generation has the bittersweet task of “planting shade trees under which we know full well we shall never sit,” Elton Trueblood said.
To plant them with joy or resentment is a choice.
Pride, pain, regret and bitterness at times prevent persons with a wealth of wisdom and experience from helping those who are coming after.
It can be hurtful to realize and accept that some ceilings will not be broken during our lifetimes, some bridges still won’t get crossed, some doors still will remain closed and some opportunities still may not happen.
We are still blazing trails, as it were.
We can, however, take the proverbial mallet in our hands, determine to join together and beat upon ceilings, keep knocking on doors and keep pressing toward the mark.
Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston declared, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”
The people of God must decide that hardships will not embitter us but instead will embolden us to help bring about a change.
Change is not something that happens quickly, easily or without struggle and sacrifice.
The people described in Hebrews 11 all, in one way or another, fought to bring about change. Whether facing oppressive giants, fighting to end unjust systems of slavery or fighting to save children, families or nations, by faith, they pressed on.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a young man when he was gunned down. And while he saw several major victories evolve out of the blood-splattered civil rights movement, seeing all of the fruit of his labor was not to be.
He was prophetic when he declared he had “been to the mountain top and seen the promised land.” He declared, “I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get there!”
King, along with other civil rights leaders, had to take the “long view” to fight for freedom.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Hershel had to take the long view in order to march arm in arm with King in the 1960s in Selma, Alabama, to be sure all Americans would have the right to vote.
They had to take the long view in Selma, where half of the city’s residents were black but only 1% were registered to vote because the registration board only opened doors for registration two days a month, arrived late and took long lunches (watch the PBS documentary, “Eyes on the Prize,” to learn more).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to take the long view to stand up against the atrocities of the Nazi regime as Hitler sought to annihilate the Jewish nation.
Sometimes faith urges you, presses you, convicts you, compels you and empowers you to stand for what is right even against seemingly insurmountable odds. To do something greater that will impact the lives of those yet unborn takes the long view.
Could God be calling us to volunteer in an inner-city school to give some broken, poverty-stricken, almost hopeless child a hope for the future?
Could God be calling us to write letters to our local representatives regarding unjust laws, demanding they change their opposing stance?
Could God be calling us to stand when others are sitting down, fallen asleep or have left the proverbial room?
Could God be calling us to help in our little corner of the world?
Sometimes, faith presses us to move from our comfort zones into places of discomfort and great possibility. Sometimes, faith calls us to move from a place of complacency to active participation in the blessing and healing process.
God wants to use us to break some glass ceilings, to push in some doors, to break down some barriers or at least do some serious damage to that which is blocking the way.
If all we do is sing, “We shall overcome,” link arms, place wreaths on some tombs and silently march in remembrance, we will have failed our predecessors.
We must do more than live in a past-time paradise. We must do more than sing loud hosannas and read poetry.
We must speak truth to power. We must educate and register people to vote.
We must stand against unjust laws and systems that crush the lives of children and youth through failed educational systems with overcrowded classrooms with frustrated, overworked and underpaid teachers, for-profit prison systems, gang-riddled and drug-infested neighborhoods.
We may not get everything accomplished in our lifetimes, but we must continue to “jump at de sun!” We may not see all we are hoping to come to pass, but we must do all we can while we can to lay the groundwork for a better day ahead.
All of the people in Hebrews 11 earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us so they would not reach perfection without us.
May we, like “these,” be courageous and take the long view.
Senior pastor of Restoration Ministries of Greater Cleveland. She is the author of Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors.