Listen to any funeral sermon and you will soon realise that what we value is not how rich or how independent we are, how far we travelled or how much we hoarded. It is how much we gave, how much we loved, how much we were loved.
I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about death over the last few months. No, I’m not just being morbid, we’re thinking of doing a project on death at work, and it has really caught my imagination.
One potential slant of the project is to look at what death – and specifically our attitudes to it and around it – tells us about life.
Read any number of headstones, obituaries or funeral sermons, and you’ll quickly learn what humans really value when it boils down to it – they rarely say ‘He was very rich’, ‘She sealed some good deals for the company’, ‘He had a lovely car’ or ‘Her face had very few fine lines, and her hair stayed its natural colour right till the end.’ Have you ever seen a gravestone marked ‘In loving memory of mother. She was very thin’?
The things we strive for and spend so much time, effort and money on are not, we discover, the things people treasure about us. ‘He/she was kind, generous, caring, positive, joyful, always there for her friends and family, would do anything for anyone…’ these are the kinds of things that are considered virtues, worthy of mention at funerals.
Sure, achievements do get mentioned too, particularly in obituaries of the rich and famous, but it is notable that tributes are more likely to be about a person’s personality than his or her CV/resume.
So what do you want to be remembered for? What are you putting in place today that will contribute to that? I want to make a difference in the world, I want to have a whole list of achievements to look back on, and it frustrates me sometimes that I don’t seem to be making much progress towards them. Increasingly, though, I’m being challenged not to neglect the things that really matter – friendships, generosity and service.
If I have all the success in the world, but have not love (to paraphrase Paul), I am but a clanging gong or resounding cymbal.
Who have you shown love to today?