We spend much of our lives striving, pursuing. Good grades. A good school. Someone to spend our lives with.
In all that busy striving and pursuing, time slips past.
And when our time here is over, if we were blessed with a family or friends, someone may say a few words about all that.
What will they say?
Living with the end in mind
The idea of writing your own obituary or eulogy may seem trite—an overused technique from personal development seminars. But when you go to an actual funeral or two, you realize what a good exercise it is.
It’s a stunning experience, really, listening to a life summed up. All those years—the ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the many conversations and decisions, the times you let people down or got things right. It’s fascinating to hear what stood out to the person at the microphone.
I’ve been thinking about that since my mother-in-law’s funeral, which took place a few weeks ago. I think she would have been pleased about what was said.
After my wife gave a beautiful, moving tribute, each of our kids got up to say a few words they had prepared. I was very proud of them for writing what they did and being willing to speak at the funeral.
In their own way, they all spoke about their grandma’s love and generosity. Family was an important priority for her, and by her actions they each knew that was true.
The greatest of these
Our 14-year-old remembered her many words of encouragement and warm hugs. He also remembered her patience, even when he and his brother and cousin played “barbarian stairs” at her house, sliding down her staircase face-first, sometimes piled on top of each other.
“But Grandma never yelled,” he said. “Not once.”
While their grandmother cared about the wear and tear on her carpeting perhaps more than most, often even covering the most heavily trafficked parts with paper, she never complained about our kids’ roughhousing.
Our son said he had many fond memories of hearing his grandmother’s stories at the dinner table—stories about growing up during the Depression and World War II.
Then he read from 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
After finishing those verses, he paused, looked up, and closed with three simple, powerful words: “Grandma had love.”
Not what, but how
I’ve replayed his ending in my mind countless times since then, and each time it brings me to tears.
What better way could someone’s life be summed up?
Those sentiments seem especially appropriate now, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. After all, God’s decision to send Jesus to us was an act of supreme love.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
And love was central to Jesus’ teaching.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another. – John 13:34-35
So, in the midst of our busy preparations—the decorating and cooking and shopping and such—let’s remember that what we do is far less important than how.
Let’s love one another well this holy season, and always.
And when the day comes that we breathe our last, may it be said of us that we had love.