It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
About a decade ago, my husband and I got a phone call relaying a friend of ours had just been diagnosed with cancer. We were shocked. Our friend, Steve, was active and seemingly healthy. He was only 34 years old. However he was given only two weeks to live.
And that is all he got.
The impact Steve’s funeral had on my (and my husband’s) life cannot be overstated. At his memorial service, people were allowed to come forward and tell stories about Steve. Over and over, we listened to his friends recount how he regularly dropped everything to come to their side in times of need.
I still remember what one man in particular shared:
While Steve was in dental school, he made time to invest in the lives of a group of middle school guys through the ministry of K-Life. Steve had a knack for seeking out guys who were a bit socially awkward. He noticed a common thread among those guys was they each lacked a father at home. So he determined to be a father figure to them.
Then the man said, “I was one of those guys, and I’m here representing our whole group. We have pledged that now Steve is gone, we will be the fathers to his three young children the same way he was to us.”
At that time my husband and I were the leaders of the local Campus Crusade movement at TCU. After a few difficult years of ministry, we were finally seeing things take off, and we were excited.
However, Steve’s funeral made me stop and reassess my definition of success. I thought about what people would say at my own funeral if I died suddenly. I realized they would only be able to say things like, “Well, she was very driven, very committed to the cause of Christ.” “She was a good teacher, very visionary.”
I was haunted by the fact that even though I worked in full-time ministry, with seemingly much more time in my schedule to invest in the lives of people than most, my memorial service would not be full of people telling stories about what a great friend I was.
That day changed me—hopefully for the better. But I still struggle with this issue. I can come up with all kinds of excuses—My temperament! My background! My “gift mix”!—for avoiding the call of Christ to enter into the lives of people. But the bottom line is that I often place my own self-protection, self-promotion, and self-satisfaction before the needs of others. “To-do lists” are much more manageable than people’s messy, broken lives. I can keep up the illusion of control and competency when my world is small.
“If…we are true to our Trinitarian historical commitments, we see…a God who in his very nature is defined by relationship. We see Father, Son and Holy Spirit as distinct persons yet also interdependent in their perichoretic relationship. The mutual indwelling of the three persons of the Godhead gives us a different understanding of what God values in us and desires from us. Here we learn that relationship is what defines us [emphasis mine]…We learn that leadership must be concerned with the whole person, and that God’s intent is for us to do the work of the kingdom within and through the community of believers. All of this we come to know from only one place, namely, in the person of Jesus Christ. If our epistemological starting point is solely in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then our focus as leaders must change drastically. For Jesus was concerned about people over product, relationship over output, and transformation over transaction.”
Good thing my Savior is so very different from me.