In a novel, every character has a back story. The main plot might be about a governess falling in love with the master of the house, but before she met him, she was a poor orphan, raised by an uncaring aunt and sent to a harsh boarding school. Sometimes we learn the history right at the beginning, and sometimes the information is dripped to us, silver drops of information given as the story unfolds. Occasionally, the back story is more interesting than the main plot.
In real life, people have a back story too. Sometimes we learn it when we meet them, usually we discover it as we get to know them better. But we never learn the whole story, we never see the entire cast of people that influenced them, we never completely understand.
Weirdly, our own lives are like that too, but in reverse. We know the back story—who shaped us, what moulded us into the people we are today—but we don’t know the next bit. We don’t know what will happen next, what is coming in our life, and what will happen after we have gone. We also don’t know who we have influenced, how many people we have been the back story for.
After Christmas, as the old year ends and a new one arrives, we start to take stock. To think about these things in our own life. Have we lived a good year? Will the next one be better?
I was thinking about this while I read the bit in the Bible when the father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, regains his speech and he makes a long prophecy all about his baby son and the man who would come after him (Jesus). It’s a song about being saved from enemies, serving God without fear, being led into peace. I’m sure when he said it, he believed it was true.
But here’s the thing. The people who heard that prophecy would then have watched the baby grow into a weird man who lived in the desert, eating locusts and wild honey, shouting about God and then being beheaded. Not much there about peace, not exactly saved from enemies. And it gets worse, because pretty soon after that, instead of being saved from Roman occupation, everything got harder for the Jews, their temple was destroyed, they were scattered around the world. Generations later, they may have heard about Zechariah’s words, shaken their heads, and agreed he was wrong. So very, very wrong.
It is only after all these things, now we know more about why the baby John came, how he was part of the plan for Jesus, part of the bigger plan of God, that we understand. God’s plan was never to save the Jews from the Romans, he had a bigger plan. Zechariah was part of the plan, but he didn’t understand it, he didn’t even really understand what the plan was, or how it would unfold. But he was part of it. His life mattered beyond what he could see.
I want my life to matter, don’t you? Sometimes it feels like it doesn’t matter at all, I have never achieved anything great—even my garden is bit of a mess. But if I keep trying to live how God wants me to live, talking to him, trying to respond to his voice, then I can be part of the plan, even if I don’t see it. The great people of history were all influenced by someone, and those people, the hidden characters of the back story, were crucial to the outcome. When you think of someone great, a person in history who achieved something wonderful, try to imagine who was in their back story. Someone taught them to be kind, to be brave, to control their temper, and without those people, the greatness wouldn’t exist.
I might always be in the background, I might never be a great leader of people, a famous author, the person who changes the world. But I am part of the back story, even if I don’t actually see it, and so are you. We matter, we influence the outcome, we just have to keep trying to be the people who we are meant to be. The wonderful thing is that this never ends, however old we are, however ill we might be, we can still be part of the back story. What we say and do, how we live, can matter, even in the tiniest of ways, it matters. We can all be part of the plan.
Thanks for reading. Have a good week, and happy new year.
Love, Anne x