Every Thursday I’ll post an article having to do with either relational or emotional matters. Hope it helps.
A Desolate Epitaph
“He passed away, to no one’s regret — ”(NIV) - II Chronicles 21:20
King Jehoram’s history could hardly have been uglier. First born son of righteous King Jehoshaphat, he had all his brothers killed when he took the throne, grabbed Ahab’s daughter for a wife, established and then sanctioned national idolatry, and, as the text states in general, “did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (II Chronicles 21:6) An interesting footnote appears at the end of the chapter chronicling his brief, ungodly reign: He passed away, to no one’s regret.
Maybe I’ve got death on my mind because of my mother’s ongoing, escalating illness. Or maybe it’s my age – not that old, but eligible for Senior Breakfast Specials in far too many coffee shops – or the fact that I took my son to see The Expendables only to find my heroes from twenty-five years ago are now looking way too much like me. Anyway, remarks made about a man’s passing can say a lot, and few of them sound bleaker to me than what’s referenced above: He died; nobody cared.
True, there are more important things to strive for than nice words at your funeral. Hunger for the glory of man and you’ll starve; seek God’s glory and a feast is yours. Still, what the people who’ve known you have to say, when summarizing your life, is worth a thought. You had impact on them, for good or not, putting them in a unique position to comment on what it was like having you in their lives.
So I ask myself, When I’m gone, will I be missed? If so, why? That leads me, in turn, to ask myself three sub-questions when trying to answer the general one.
First: Has anyone been brought closer to God because of me?
After all, if the primary issue of life is knowing Him and living out His will, then it logically follows that a truly successful life is one that enhances someone else’s knowledge of, and intimacy with, God.
We’ve been entrusted with knowledge of the gospel, the ultimate life or death message. Am I applying my mind to its enormity, its relevance? If the gospel message is true, then people are dead or alive; secure or doomed. Good grief, just last week I jumped out of my car at an intersection to help a man in a wheelchair who was faltering in the middle of the crosswalk. If I wouldn’t let a stranger risk temporal injury, would I needlessly let one pass into eternity without remedy?
I hope it can be said of me that someone heard, understood, and responded to the Good News because of what He’s done in my life. Likewise, I hope someone can say I was in some way instrumental in building up their closeness to Him as a believer. Both are critical; doable as well.
Second: Did anyone feel more significant because of me?
Everyone I know seems to be scrambling to make their lives count, and I’m all for that. We want to know we’re not taking up space, and that somehow this world, for all its fallen horror, is a little better because we were here. And yet, much as we want to make a difference, it seems no matter how much we accomplish, none of us escapes the insecurity driving us to ask, in the wee small hours, Do I count? Am I of any significance to anyone?
I really want to be that Anyone. I think you do, too. If you and I can be a force in someone’s life causing them to realize their value, their uniqueness, their potential, then hey, we’re not doing badly. So if it all ends now, and next week over my casket someone says “Because of him, I felt like I mattered”, then if stiffs can grin, you’ll see a big one on this guy.
Third: Was anyone better equipped to deal with life because of me?
Paul said we’re able to comfort others in their tribulations with the same comfort we’ve received in ours (II Corinthians 1:4) and there’s quite a principle at play there. Think of all you’ve been through. Isn’t it true that, upon reflection, you’d like turn what you’ve learned from your trials into tools someone else can use when they’re facing hard times? Your own failures, heartaches, rough circumstances and long standing hurts are a textbook, a rich resource someone else can draw on. Especially the lessons you learned, and the coping skills you developed, as a result. So Jesus told Peter, shortly before his catastrophic fall, “When you are converted, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:32) In other words, use what you’ve learned in your own life to better equip others to live theirs. That principle alone is one that rich and wonderful legacies are made of.
If you’re into courtroom dramas (and yes, I’m an unrepentant Law and Order nut) you’ll note that the concluding statements of the final arguments stick in the judge and jury’s minds, so the attorneys make those statements both concise and compelling. I wonder what Counsel would have to say about my life, if he were making closing arguments to justify my existence? Ladies and Gentlemen, in defense of my client’s having been allowed to live, let me say — well, what?
That’s a question I’m going to let hang as I mull it over later tonight.
For now, let me admit that I hope he’ll at least be able to say someone cared when I passed.
But more important, I hope he’ll be able to say someone cared for all the right reasons. And may all those reasons be cited in all of our eulogies.