I went to a funeral last week, of someone I had known all my life, a good friend of my parents, who had died unexpectedly a few weeks ago.
I find funerals strange occasions. There is such a mix of emotions, especially when the mourned and mourners are Christians. There is a sudden hole in your life that you know nothing will be able to fill, but you have to keep going. Yet there is always that knowledge, that hope, that you cling to that you will see that person again, and that they are in a much better place.
As I was a few stages removed from the family of the deceased, due to the distance that time and space brings, my grief on this occasion was secondary – I felt compassion for their sadness over their loss, and it brought back memories of when I lost grandparents, and created imaginings of how I would feel at the loss of my parents. I also seem to automatically cry when I see others in tears.
My own sentiment, and I hope you’ll not think me callous, was one of celebration of a life lived well. Testament to this was the number squeezed into the tiny church hall, overflowing into the lobby where there was a video link. The stories of remembrance were full of humour and light, memories of a man with a generous heart and ready wit, who always knew how many days it was until Christmas.
We sung some of his favourite hymns, which mostly had references to being received into glory, and I could imagine him gleefully running to join the cloud of witnesses, being reunited with his relatives, and smiling down on us and giggling at the irony of what we were singing.
The service got me thinking about legacy – what do we leave behind us when we go? Hearing the testimony of this man’s life – how he came to faith through the love and wisdom of his grandfather and in turn passed this onto his own grandchildren; how his strong work ethic and sense of humour made him a shining light in his workplace – I could see the fruits of his years of faithfulness to Christ and the beauty of that legacy. I thought about those, including this gentle-man, who have had an impact on my life and wondered: what trace am I leaving on the lives of those around me?
In the last year or so I have become more aware of my own mortality. I would not say I am afraid of death or believe that it is coming soon for me, I have just been struck by the realisation that people my age and younger can die just as easily as those who are getting on in years (there’s a cheery thought!) I am more conscious of not wasting time, and of focusing on all I want to achieve in life. I am also driving more carefully!
I want my life to be positive. I want to make a difference to others. I don’t need a big stage or a large following, but I do want to be faithful to what I have been called to do. I want to make the most of the gifts I have been given and the opportunities set out in front of me.
I felt God’s whisper as I listened to the funeral service. He has given me words, and my words will be my legacy. My words will remain long after I have gone. This is a great encouragement to me as I sit down to write and is also a reminder to be prayerful in my writing – whether in this blog, in my poetry or in my novelistic ambitions – to seek God’s purposes in the word-craft, in the stories I am trying to tell.
But it meant more than just writing to me. Like most people, I speak everyday. I talk to people, and they listen (usually). I converse with colleagues, have deep chats with friends, I instant message people all over the world. Those words have an impact too. Most of it may be forgetten, but some of the words we speak, positive and negative, leave our mouths and go straight to people’s hearts.
In the Bible, James compares the tongue to a fire that can burn down a whole forest. He says it is like the rudder of a ship, that can turn it and direct its route. I have done a bit of sailing in the past, and I know that if you let go of the tiller, the rudder turns the boat into the wind and you are at the mercy of the weather. We need to watch what we say, because our words have potential to heal or to hurt, every single time we open our mouths.
I hope I remember these lessons I’m learning along the way. I am determined to be more careful with my words – both written and spoken. I pray that I may leave as positive a legacy as that of the man we said farewell to this week.
And it is 116 days until Christmas.