I recently attended the funeral of my husband’s stepmother. Although the family’s hearts were heavy for the very sad loss, as she had fought a long, painful battle with cancer, everyone who gathered that day celebrated the beauty of her life and honored her remarkable and dynamic spirit. I don’t know what it is about funerals, but they always have a huge effect on me. Maybe it is the deep sorrow we face realizing that this person will no longer be physically present with us. Maybe it is the collection of loved ones showering their support, some of them traveling a great distance to show their respect. But I am also struck on those occasions by the acknowledgment of my own mortality and the fact that one day this will be my funeral. I don’t know how long I have left on this earth. What will people remember about me when I am gone? As they sit quietly in each pew, what mark will I have left on their lives?
Throughout my life, my father has encouraged me to read certain inspiring and thought-provoking books. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Steven Covey, is one of those transformative reads. In his book, Covey writes about “Emotional Bank Accounts” and how we all make deposits and withdrawals in our relationships. He writes, “An Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being. If I make deposits …with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a reserve…But if I have a habit of showing discourtesy, disrespect, cutting you off, overreacting, ignoring you…betraying your trust…eventually my Emotional Bank Account is overdrawn.” Sitting in any funeral ceremony, this idea of deposits and withdrawals always comes to mind. Have I made enough deposits to those around me? How many opportunities have I missed to encourage, comfort, forgive and show compassion?
After the ceremony, my husband and I, along with my three stepsons ventured over to the cemetery. We got out of our car and walked around exploring the burial sites of other family members who had passed on. As I strolled up and down each row of stones, I studied the graves of strangers who were buried there. One was for a girl who died at 16 years old. Having a daughter that age myself, I choked back tears imagining the agony of losing a child so young. Another was for a beloved grandmother whose picture was displayed, along with the caption that she had been “an angel on earth.” Her warm smile and kind eyes revealed there made me believe that, too. As I traveled on, I noticed that most were simple graves with only names and dates listed. I have no idea if these people were intelligent, wealthy, or accomplished. And did that even matter now? It registered to me that what remains from these people’s lives is what they planted in the hearts of those left behind. Maybe all that we have when we’ve passed on from this world is how we have loved people and made deposits in their lives?
When teaching my Bible studies, I tried to introduce stimulating activities that I hoped would be motivating and encourage reflection. At one session, I gave each of my ladies an index card and asked them to picture their funeral. I requested that they write down three things they would want most for other people to say about them at their funeral. Next, I asked them to look at what they wrote on their card carefully and ponder a very important question: Are you living out these three things TODAY? I would urge them all to make these a reality while they were still alive!
Romans 14:12 says that…
”each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
What does this verse mean to you? I believe that once we have passed on from this world, that we are held accountable for the choices we made when we were still in it. Is that a little scary? Are you proud of the account you will give to God? Are you confident that you have followed every opportunity to deposit love? Many years later I ran into one of the women from that Bible study group. She couldn’t wait to tell me that she has kept her “funeral index card” in her wallet ever since our meeting. She enumerated the ways it had transformed her life by simply choosing to make those “three things” a reality each day. And so can you.
I encourage you to do this now. Make this list of three things you want others to say about you at your funeral. If you find it difficult to start, begin by what you do NOT want them to say. It will really put things in perspective.
“She was selfish and everything had to be her way.”
“I always remember that he complained a lot.”
“He never seemed to have time for me.”
“She gossiped about others, so I never felt I could trust her.”
“He cared more about his job than his family.”
These examples are obviously not how we want to be remembered, but even seemingly “positive” things may not be what you actually want to be your legacy.
“She had the prettiest house.”
“He was very rich.”
“He was always in really great shape.”
“She was so successful in her business.”
Certainly owning a beautiful home, creating wealth, achieving success or being in shape are not bad. But have you used them to glorify God? Have you applied these gifts to make deposits in other people’s lives? And are they the only positive things people can think to say about you? Examine how much more meaningful these comments would be if they were the following:
“She had the prettiest house and always opened it up to everyone. She was so inclusive and made us all feel welcome.”
“He was very rich and used his wealth to provide help to those less fortunate. He used his money to bless so many and was an example to us all.”
“He was always in really great shape and inspired us all to eat healthy and work out. His encouraging words always motivated me and I am so appreciative.”
“She was so successful in her business, always treating her employees with respect and support. Everyone who worked for her adored her.”
We cannot take our money, our bodies or our material things with us when we die. We must make a mark on others’ lives through love. Jesus said,
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).
Jesus laid down his life for us. He took your place and mine and paid for our sins, by dying on the cross. Wouldn’t you agree that this is certainly the greatest deposit made of all time? Because of His sacrifice, we have forgiveness for our sins, access to our Heavenly Father and eternal life in Heaven. He is encouraging us here to love others as He has loved us and doing it as a way to show the world that we are His followers. To me, this means that since there were no limits on His love for us, there should be no limits to how deeply we should love each other.
1 Corinthians 13 is a very common scripture to hear at weddings. It has been recited so often that people’s eyes roll and then gloss over when it begins. This is sad to me, because these verses are some of the greatest of the Bible.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)
I read one time that if you replace the word “love” in these verses with the word “Jesus,” you will clearly see who your Savior is to you. How comforting to know that Jesus is patient, kind and that He keeps no record of wrongs. Now take it a step further by replacing the word “love” with your name. Would this be the truth? Not for me, I must admit. But, I appreciate this task as I can plainly see how God desires for me to live. It is a clear guide for how we can live our lives making deposits of love. Think back to that “funeral index card.” Think forward to your funeral. Wouldn’t you feel your life truly made a difference if you lived out the depth of love in these verses?
Maybe you had a falling out with a friend or family member and you haven’t spoken in years? Make a deposit by letting go of the anger and reaching out to them. Don’t allow yourself to spend one more day in regret. Even if they are never fully open to reconciliation, you and God will always know that you continued to reach out. Making deposits of love just might lower that wall and allow the relationship to be restored one day. Have you hurt someone and know that you need to ask for forgiveness? Gather your courage and do it now. You will make a deposit in the effort and acknowledgment that you hurt them. They will know your feelings and maybe some healing can begin. Do you know someone who is lonely? Invite them to dinner. Have a wonderful experience in a store or restaurant? Call over the manager and tell them what a fantastic job their employee did for you. Remember people’s birthdays. Smile at a stranger- it may be the only one they’ve seen in a while. And pray, pray, pray for everyone. Whether they are big deposits of love or small- it matters. It matters to them, it matters to you, but most importantly, it matters to God.
How much are you willing to spend?