Lessons from a Memorial
I apologize for the lapse in blog posts. It’s been a crazy few weeks.
Between the end-of-year ceremonies, the recognition nights, the music concerts, the birthdays, the holidays, five kids living under one roof, a part-time job that keeps getting busier, getting ready for exchange student departures, and preparing for a writers’ conference… Well, I’ve felt a little crazy.
This past Friday, though, everything went in slow motion for a couple hours while I joined other high school friends in remembering our beloved youth pastor, Jonathan. We met at the church I spent my adolescent years in and even though 20 years had passed, wrinkles had surfaced and plenty of kids were in tow, it felt like a flashback in time. At the end of the memorial when we all sang a familiar worship song together, it was as if no time had passed.
“I lift my eyes up, unto the mountains. Where does my help come from? My help comes from you, Maker of Heaven, Creator of the Earth. Oh how I need you Lord. You are my only hope. You’re my only prayer. So I will wait for you to come and rescue me. Come and give me life."
It felt like I had just blinked and fast-forwarded through life.
It had me pondering at how quickly years go by and how no amount of time seems to age our spirits on the inside.
It had me thinking about my own mortality.
It had me reflecting on eternity.
I read someone’s Facebook post recently where she described death like a birth. She said it must be like a baby who thinks they’re in a comforting place but then they see the light and this big world in front of them. They don’t want to go but they have no idea what’s waiting for them outside the confines of the world they know. It made me ponder about what my youth pastor is experiencing now with Christ.
My 19-year-old, Dutch exchange daughter, Lieke, thinks I have a morbid fascination with death. Last August when she came for a visit, we listened to a streaming memorial service while we casually painted kitchen cabinets in the hot sun. Lieke laughed and said I was weird.
Maybe I am weird. But not according to Scripture.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”
A funeral is better than a party?
Pausing to ponder death isn’t a bad thing. Because if we only focus on the busyness of the here and now, we risk missing something hugely valuable.
Every time someone’s death impacts me- emotionally or personally, I inevitably come to these questions, “What do I really believe about life? How do I want to be remembered? How do I want to live my life? And is the way I’m living congruent with how I want to be remembered?”
I was speaking recently with a friend who’s agnostic. She told me it gives her comfort to believe there’s nothing that happens when we die. She believes this is her one shot to live her best life and it all happened by accident.
I looked at her and said, “Do you really believe that?”
I mean, I wanted to ask, do you really believe the way you feel, the way you love, the way your personality is- it’s all by accident? Do you really believe the way you reason, the way your DNA is unique to you, the way you laugh- that’s just the result of some big cosmic explosion? Do you truly believe there was just a big bang that came out of nothing to create something and not only something but all of this? If I showed you a book or a masterpiece and said it’s intricate design was by pure accident- you would laugh.
And I get it in some ways, because I try to put myself in my unbelieving friends’ shoes. If I didn’t have my faith, I would wonder, how is it possible there’s a God that loves me so much He gave his only son to die for my sins? How is it possible to believe in a God that created me for a plan and a purpose? How is it possible to trust that God’s ways are better than mine and He is good even when life doesn’t make sense?
And with my own reasoning, it may not seem possible. But with God, all things are possible. And it does take faith, right?
But it takes faith no matter what you believe.
It takes faith to believe that this is all for nothing. That the spirit inside each of us that feels eternal will one day be gone for good. It takes faith to believe it’s all an accident. It takes faith to believe that our feelings, our uniqueness, our skills and abilities have not been fine-tuned or designed.
Both the Apostle Paul and King David wrote that creation speaks to the glory of God. Paul says to the Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes… For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:16a, 20) and King David, wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands,” (Psalm 19:1)
It seems like it takes greater faith to believe in nothing than it does to believe the evidence all around us points to something greater than ourselves.
And the crazy seasons of our life, the months that go by in a flash with busy and to-do lists occupying our thoughts, and celebrations, those days are part of life. Trust me. I know. But if we never take the time to pause and think about what life is really about and who designed all this- we’re putting ourselves at terrible risk of losing sight of what’s important.
As for me, I want my funeral one day to be one of celebration and joy. I want people to feel loved and welcomed. And the most loving thing of all is to share Jesus Christ and His saving grace for all who receive Him. Giving my life as a surrender to Him has been the most amazing, life-giving choice I’ve ever made.
All of us who have friends who have shared their favorite things with us- whether it’s their favorite workout, a great restaurant or some fad health drink. If they really love their favorite thing- we know it, right? We hear about it a lot.
So why don’t we share Christ in a similar way?
The other day, a friend and I were sharing our faith with an atheist. We shared with him something along the lines of, “It would be disingenuous to say we love you and not tell you about the greatest love of all.”
And yet sometimes, if I’m really being honest, I don’t live like I really mean it.
So at my funeral one day, I pray it’s said that I loved God and I loved people and I lived it. Even though the struggle was real and I messed up plenty of times. God is gracious. And the greatest love of all is available to all who receive him. His name is Jesus. His is the name above all names. He is the way, the truth and the life.
And frankly friends, that life in eternity with Christ? It keeps looking better and better. I love my life and I love my family. I love so much about this earth. I can’t imagine loving anything more. But I believe eternity with God is better than anything this world has to offer. And I believe the day I die will be the best day of my life.
But meanwhile, I’m still here and so are you. And those of us here on earth who truly believe He loves us, have a mission to share God’s love with the world. And we need our words and actions to match what we say we believe.
Go ahead, pause for a moment from whatever crazy you’re living in and ask yourself.
How do I want to be remembered?
How do I want to live my life?
And is the way I’m living congruent with how I want to be remembered?
It’s great to imagine what heaven will be like one day. That day we’re united with Christ, see the Father’s glory and see our loved ones who we miss so much. I can’t wait to hug my Grandpa, have a dinner with my relatives, talk with my youth pastor, and meet Jesus face to face. But right now, this matters too. Today matters. Let’s go out and love like it matters more than anything.
Because it does.