Memorial services are great for bringing perspective.
I recently attended one for a dear guy who, at one stage of our lives, was extremely instrumental in our continuing faith journey. He was the first small group leader we had in the church we attended more than 20 years ago. We've since moved on from that church, moving home to help start another church in a nearby community.
What shocked us about this situation was that his death was sudden – and he was so young (just four years older than my husband). So there we were, a group of people that had come back together from various corners of the country to celebrate and acknowledge the life of this unassuming man who had had an impact on us.
He had been a somewhat clumsy, awkward guy, but so friendly and gentle. Everyone who paid tribute to him recognised those qualities. But they also talked about his absolute assurance of the truth of the gospel. Although a scientist, he had had no problem marrying his faith with scientific fact, and his faith had been the stronger for it.
As I sat listening to people speaking that day, I suddenly heard a gentle whisper:
What would people be saying if it were you? How would people describe you?
I know that the word 'gentle' would certainly not be among the words used. Unfortunately that's not a natural character trait for me...
But would there be the things I would hope for, such as: kind, loyal, honest, authentic, faith-filled, inspiring, encouraging? Or would there be, as I suspect I'm viewed as currently: over-busy, stressed, aloof, overbearing, difficult to approach, emotional?
I know I'm overstating the case somewhat, but sitting there that day made me take stock:
What is it I'm investing my time and efforts in, and are they worthwhile?
A friend of mine continued the challenge when he preached the following Sunday, saying, "Every day we must get out of bed and ask ourselves what we are spending our life on... Jesus said that if we don't pursue the kingdom of God with everything that we are, with everything that we have, and to the exclusion of everything else, then we are wasting our time."
The other thing the memorial service made me realise afresh is that life is simply far too short – and unpredictable. None of us are guaranteed a certain number of days on this earth. Yes God knows how long we have – but we don't.
We should make the most of every opportunity; stop putting off those things we know we should deal with or the adventures we long to have.
I turned to my husband that day and gently said (yes I was actually gentle!) "There are things we are just letting slide, just living with day by day in amongst the busyness, that we should be dealing with."
Sometimes the craziness of life – ours obviously church leading, which has its peculiarities, but I know most people are busy – causes us to ignore the things closest to us while we are getting on doing other things. But that day was a less than subtle nudge from God to me:
Life's too short – do something about those things I've talked to you about numerous times...
What's He saying to you? Don't ignore Him, or brush situations and relationship problems under the carpet thinking you can deal with them another day. For who among us knows how many days we have left?
We are all like dust – so don't you want to make the short time you have on earth matter as much as it could?
There are days when I find it hard to do much at all, but my heart is to grab each day for all its worth. Sometimes I start out with that intention and then after hearing one too many whine from one of our children I simply snap – and then I know I've blown it big time.
But I also know that God's grace is sufficient for me. So I can pick myself up and carry on, grabbing each moment as it comes, seeking God's will and pursuing what I feel are His callings on my life, for however many days He's given me.
Because of the reminder that life is so fleeting, I've got a renewed sense of urgency to make sure I love those closest to me as well as I can, and share God's love with all those I come into contact with. That, for me, is a successful life, well lived. What does a successful life look like to you?