A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble. – Charles Spurgeon
People who’ve known you have a reaction when they hear your name. Their emotions are like a credit rating system saying “good”, “fair”, or “poor” when they think of you, their feelings springing from what their experience with you has been like.
Those you’ve interacted with, whether in close relationships, business dealings, or casual socializing, have found you to be gentle, or rude, or funny, or detached, or personable, or intimidating. They also remember you as respectful or unreliable; spiritual or religious in the phoniest of ways; solid or flaky. And so many other things, all of which create in them a gut response when you come up in their conversations or memories.
Then there are those who’ve never met you, but may know about you. Maybe your work, or words, or general reputation has birthed in them not just an opinion of you, but positive or negative feelings as well. Regardless, you certainly don’t exist in a vacuum. You’ve been affecting people for better or worse, carving your name, as Spurgeon said in the quote above, on their hearts.
That’s worth thinking about as we end another year. While our accomplishments in 2016 count for much, I think our relational impact counts for much more. So much more, in fact, that if we’re going to make New Year’s resolutions they should be largely determined by where or how we’ve let others down this year.
Beating ourselves up isn’t the point. But when I end a year, invariably I feel regret over things as trite as an e-mail I should have returned, or as serious as a friendship neglected, a pain ignored, or a commitment broken. Facing, admitting, then regretting those things will hopefully lead me to correcting them, to whatever extent they can be corrected, then avoiding a repeat of those same sins in 2017.
So the selfie I take of my handling of relationships this year is OK, but far from where it should be. Three things stand out as I review the pic.
- I kept people waiting.
I see way too many times over these past twelve months when I’ve said I’d do something, then gave myself permission to adjust my deadline however I saw fit. It’s not that I don’t do what I’ve promised to do. It’s the “when” which I too often turned into “when I get to it,” putting people in that awkward position of having to call me for a status report.
Tardiness sends a message of insignificance, even if that’s not the message intended. It leaves people thinking they’re not important enough for you to take the extra effort for, often causing them to reconsider the value of their business or personal relationship with you.
For that I am truly sorry, and resolved to be downright rigid, if need be, about my scheduling next year. I intend to be slower to commit to things, remembering that saying “yes” too quickly leads to disappointing people who’d have been better off had I said “no” from the start. But having committed, I’m determined to be rigid as a Pharisee about deadlines, expectations raised, and promises kept.
When people hear my name, I’d love for the word “reliable to cross their minds. Maybe next year.
- I presumed my friends knew their importance to me
The recent celebrity deaths we’re mourning (Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, George Michaels, to name a few) are causing me to remember the questions slapping me in the head whenever someone I love dies: Did he know how much I loved him? Did she know how valuable she was to me? Did they have any doubts about their importance in my life?
I have been blessed with amazing, godly, steadfast friends and loved ones. But anybody can say that, and words of affection, though great looking on Facebook, don’t sustain a bond. If we say someone’s important to us, they’ve every right to ask, “Where’s the proof? How often did you call? When did you carve out some time for us to be together?”
The “busy” excuse means nothing. Everyone’s busy; everybody has too much to do and too little time, yeah, we all know. But we also know that when something’s important, we find ways to get to it.
Unless, of course, we foolishly think the people in our lives will always assume they matter, even if the evidence for that assumption is scarce. That, I hope, is as unacceptable to you as it is to me. I hugely regret not making more effort to be with the people who’ve meant so much to me for decades. I’m much poorer for that, and I really do fear letting anyone who’s important to me wonder whether or not they’re important to me.
On this point, I know I can better, and plan to. When someone I love hears my name, I’d love for him to think to himself, “Well, there’s one guy I know I matter to!”
- I let positions change my affections
There’s nothing like an election year to expose not only our differences, but our intolerance for differences, and our subsequent intolerance for intolerance.
So when people I knew got agitated for or against Trump, I didn’t so much mind it if their positions were different than mine. But boy, did I get hot when people got hot! If someone reacted emotionally (“How could you believe that?” How could you vote that way? How can you take that stand?”) then I, in a ridiculous display of hypocrisy, would say, “How can you get so upset over me believing that? I’m so upset with you, for letting yourself get so upset!”
Brilliant. Now, I’ve no intention of changing my positions, whether political or theological. But I want to change my inclination to let positions dictate affections.
I interact regularly with people who belong to a different party than mine, support causes I oppose, or have priorities I don’t share. From now on, I want my interactions with them to be more noticeably respectful; more focused on what we share, with me being less inclined to lock horns over what we don’t.
In short, I’d like my name to be associated with steadfastness (“That guy doesn’t cave”) and with tolerance (“That guy’s civil no matter how strongly he disagrees with me.”) There’s a late Christmas wish but an early 2017 goal.
The phrase “a good report” is common to scripture. Proverbs tells us it’s to be chosen above riches (Proverbs 22:1) and Paul considered it a requirement for church leadership (I Timothy 3:7) The question, then, becomes, “What’s your report looking like?”
It wouldn’t hurt to ask the people in your life how they’re feeling about your relationship with them. Nor would it hurt to ask yourself if the way you’re handling your friends and loved ones is the way you want to be handled yourself. And you can’t go wrong asking God to increase your love, your awareness of the value of the people He’s entrusted to you, and your zeal for being a good steward of the opportunities you have to enrich the lives He both created, and treasures.
Let’s not try to make our names great this coming year. But let’s work our tails off to make our names a blessing.