As a pastor in ministry for 25 years, I have been involved in many funerals and memorial services. In most of them, the sharing of memories is included in the order of service. This aspect is truly telling. In some services there is awkward, even oppressive, silence. People grapple with their memories and emotions, and a few brave souls may venture forth to share a good word. In other services, people almost fight for the microphone. Their loved one had a positive, lasting influence on them, and they are eager to share. Intense emotions are still present, but memory after memory is described in an atmosphere of joy.
Some times the audience’s lack of sharing is caused by shyness, coupled with the inability to navigate intense emotions. However, it has been my experience over the years that silence is more commonly caused by a lack of something to share. One person confided to me, “My mother’s funeral was so hard. Nobody wanted to dishonor her memory, especially there. But there was nothing good to say, and you have to tell the truth.”
Thankfully most situations are not as tragic as this one, but the fact remains–all of us will leave behind some kind of legacy. There is simply no way around it. Unless Jesus returns during our life time, we will all face death one day. Our death is outside our control. What we have control over is the type of legacy we leave.
A powerful exercise used to help people develop a life plan is having them imagine their own funeral. While this may sound morbid or unpleasant, it causes people to pause and really think about where their current choices are leading as they grapple with questions like these…
What do you want your family to say about you at your funeral? Your friends? Your colleagues?
Are your current choices and lifestyle going to get you there?
Discovering the answers allows people to get in touch with their values, their God-given callings, and what is truly important to them.
I have yet to meet anyone at the end of their life who says they wished they had spent more time building their career or making more money. Rather, regrets center on failure to invest in important relationships and in making a positive difference in their world. Things might have been different if they had identified their priorities before facing a life-threatening health challenge.
I personally make a point of telling each family member, “I love you,” before leaving the house even if I plan to be gone for a short time. My husband and two of my five kids are the only ones at home now (and the adult son living with me is rarely around), however, if something unforeseen should happen to me, I want “I love you” to be the last words they remember hearing. I don’t live under the fear of impending doom. I simply realize that my choices, even small ones, build the legacy I want to leave.
By taking a look at death, we have the opportunity to make the most of the life God has given us. We can make each day count by our intentional actions to build a God-honoring legacy.
O Lord, “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NIV).