Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures…
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.—Psalm 90:10-12
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.—1 Thessalonians 2:8
I’ve seen a lot of funerals, and it’s starting to affect me.
Pastors go to a lot more funerals (or memorial services, or celebrations of life, or whatever you want to call them) than most people. Most people only attend a service like that when someone close to them passes away. They go because they have a real connection to the person who has died. Pastors do this too, but we also attend—and lead—services for people we didn’t know very well, or even for total strangers. Some people may go years without finding themselves in the funeral environment, but for pastors it’s a regular thing.
This means I’ve seen a lot of grief and sorrow. But it also means I’ve heard a lot of eulogies, where people give testimony to what a good person the departed was. I’ve seen a lot of slideshows, where the pictures start at childhood, and you see what that person was like when they were young, and then when they got married, and then when they became a parent, and a grandparent, and so on. 8 minutes’ worth of pictures, set to music, telling the story of a life that has now come to an end, at least on earth.
Having that experience over and over again can’t help but change a person. For one thing, I’m not as shocked by death as a lot of people. Death is an unavoidable reality, and when you’re around it a lot you come to expect it. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s where I find myself.
But there is another effect all those eulogies and slideshows have had on me, and I’m pretty sure this one is an entirely good thing: I want to live the kind of life where people have good things to say at my memorial service. Specifically, I want my wife and children to reflect on my impact in their lives and be really grateful. I’ve seen a lot of people stand up on a platform and say “my dad was such a great guy…” and then tell stories of the way he made them feel special, the way he made time for them, the things he did with them, and I’ve decided I want that to be me.
This is hard for me, because I am naturally a task-oriented person. I’m very motivated by goals, and by the work that needs to be done. If I’m not careful, I can easily spend my time checking things off of the to-do list, and not prioritize the people in my life. My wife Carey is a great help to me in this. Carey sees clearly that we only have so much time with the kids before they grow up and move out, and she is intentional about making good use of that time.
A few years ago Carey came to me and said, “when each of our kids turns 13, I want to take them on a solo trip to Disneyland, just me and them.” Now, a trip to Disneyland is expensive, and our lives are busy. But I knew the moment she said it that it was a great idea, because those are the kinds of things people remember for the rest of their lives. Experiences like that show children they’re special. When they look back on their lives, those are the stories they tell. So I said yes, and it has been a really cool thing for our family.
And this last week it was my turn to make a memory. On Christmas, we presented Claire, our middle daughter, with two tickets to see one of her favorite singers in concert in Portland, which is the closest he was coming to Susanville. At the time we knew that Carey would be out of town on the same weekend, but we didn’t know that my mom would also be having knee surgery, and that my brother would be busy installing a new sound board at the church. Or that there would be weeks and weeks of snow and rain stretching into mid-March. But we worked out all those other details, and we went anyway.
Claire and I got up early on Friday and drove for 10 hours, much of that time on packed snow at around 40 miles an hour. We ate fast food and candy bars from the gas station, and sang along with the music on the radio to pass the time. We got to Portland early enough to walk around downtown for a while, taking in the sights and listening to a bagpipe player who was playing outside an Irish restaurant. Then we went to the concert, which was amazing, the kind of thing you just don’t get to experience in a place like Susanville. Then it was an hour drive back to Salem to stay at a friend’s house, then up early to get donuts and drive the rest of the way home. We took a different route this time, and there was less snow, but still enough to be beautiful and stressful. We got back in time to have dinner and re-pack our bags to spend the night at Grandma’s while she was recovering from surgery. That night we set the clocks forward and lost an hour of sleep because of Daylight Savings Time, and then I got up early the next morning to preach two sermons. It was absolutely exhausting, and I’m pretty sure neither one of us will ever forget it.
Life is short. We only have so many opportunities to express the love we have for the people around us. As Christians, we follow the One whose love moved Him to take action. We have no doubt that Jesus loves us, because He didn’t just tell us about it, He showed it. He paid a price, and His sacrifice revealed how much He treasures us.
So who do you treasure? Do they know it? How could you show them? Most of the time, it probably won’t be a trip to Disneyland, but what would communicate to them how important they are to you? Even if you have to pay a price in time or energy or sleep, turning our love into action is always worth it. This week, think about the expressions of love that have made the greatest impact in your life, and about how you could do the same kind of thing for someone close to you. I promise you won’t regret it.