Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
WE CAN THINK OF “REACH” IN TWO WAYS. First, there are the things that are within our reach. This is what Browning refers to as our “grasp.” But more important, there are the things we are reaching for. And in this sense, our reach should exceed our grasp. We should be striving for things greater than those we have right now.
As you may have noticed, life moves in one direction: it moves relentlessly toward the future. There is no going back, except in memory, and so we need to be forward-oriented. In both our thinking and our acting, we must discipline ourselves to put the greater emphasis on what is in front of us rather than on what is behind. Yes, we need to think about the past often enough to learn its lessons, but when it’s time to reach, we need to reach forward. Nothing is more futile than reaching backward. The past is gone, and reaching won’t bring it back.
Elsewhere I have written about the importance of seeing our next step as our most important. Even if you’ve reached old age and most of your steps in life are behind you, it is still true that the next step you take is the most important. The reason is simple: the next step is the only one you can take. Obviously, you can’t take those that have already been taken, and until you get to it, you can’t take the step after your next one. So your next step — the one immediately in front of you — is critically important. Make it a bad step, and you will have dug yourself deeper into a hole. But make it a good step, reaching for better things, and you will have helped yourself very wisely.
But if we need to reach toward better things ourselves, we also need to help others do so. Nearly everybody you meet needs some kind of encouragement, and you will touch their lives with grace if you are a messenger of hope. Is this not a gift you would like to give?
Emil Brunner wrote, “Hope is reaching out for something to come.” We do, as I’ve said, need to have hope and share hope. But even when we have hope, sometimes we’re still not people who do much reaching. So may we actually reach for the things we hope for.
“This is what I do: I don’t look back, I lengthen my stride, and I run straight toward the goal . . .” (Paul the Apostle).