When the measure of a life is immeasurable

So, it happened again this week. We took our kids to another funeral. And like last time, they were full of questions, mostly curious.

This time, we arrived early enough to greet the family as they stood next to the casket. While in line, Phil asked if we should prepare the kids for seeing the body. It had completely slipped my mind that they might wonder about that. So, I knelt down and told them that the body of the woman, Ruth, was lying in the casket, even though she was already gone to be with Jesus. I told them they didn’t have to look, that they could just hug and shake hands with the family. As we approached, they peeked in and then gave hugs to the family. Our 4-year-old kept asking me why she was lying on that bed? I tried, and probably failed, to answer him well.

Later, he asked me why she died. The service was going on, and he was whisper-shouting his question so I told him we’d talk about it in the car. When it came time to answer him, I asked for clarification. Did he want to know how she died or why people die? Of course, it was the latter.

Fortunately, my seminary-trained husband explained creation and death and resurrection to him. It may have blown his little brain but we’ve heard the things he comes up with so I have no doubt he’s been taking it all in.

Why do people die?

Don’t we all wonder that from time to time? I mean I think I know “the answer,”  at least in part, and I’m no longer afraid of the reality that all of us will face it someday.

What bothers me more is how do I live with that information?

She was 92, and we barely knew her, but her son and his wife have been quietly and powerfully influential in our spiritual lives. We watched pictures from this woman’s life scroll on the video screen, and as words of remembrance were spoken about her, I thought about how much more there was to her life than a few words and pictures can show.

Behind each picture was a story that only the one pictured could tell authentically. Behind each word spoken were a thousand more.

More than nine decades of life, and I wanted to imagine each and every year, to listen to stories of faith and survival, loss and fulfillment.

I continue to be struck with and motivated by this truth:

Generations are passing away, and we have no idea what we’re losing. <Click to tweet.>

A person’s life is seldom summed up in the words shared and pictures displayed at a funeral. The legacy of their life is an unseen force whose reach is unending. Such was the case with Ruth.

She did not leave behind scores of family members or great big accomplishments. She raised a son to know the Lord. He, in turn, has raised countless spiritual sons and daughters to know the Lord and know Him better. And those sons and daughters of the faith are scattered far and wide. It’s not the kind of influence you can measure or count. A life that might appear small on paper could, in fact, be larger than life itself.

My mind can’t comprehend the importance of this woman’s life, how her faithful service to God and her family and those around her impacted me and my family and will impact our children. She would not have known my name, but hers I will not forget.

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older or I’ve seen more of what’s really important, but funerals are some of the most moving experiences I’ve had lately.

I’m sorry that people have to die and families have to grieve but I’m not sorry for the opportunity to reflect on a person’s life and influence.

Because in considering others’ contributions to humanity, I’m forced to consider my own.

What’s important when my life is over? Is it a room full of people saying kind words about me? Is it pictures of fun times, experiences of great joy? Is it a long list of survivors who carry my genes?

Or is it something more than all of that?

(Getting older also means I have more questions than answers.)

It is easy to live a measurable life, the kind that would accomplish a full funeral home, a long line of mourners at the door, a large family gathered to remember (and none of that is bad, mind you).

But it’s harder (difficult? nearly impossible?), I think, to live an immeasurable life. To do small things with great love, as Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, with hardly any thought of legacy or influence. (I say “hardly” because can we ever fully separate ourselves from that thought?)

When I consider Ruth’s life, and the quiet but powerful lives of others who’ve died, I am left with these questions:

Do I want people to mourn my death for moments and move on? Or do I want to have lived the kind of life that continues to influence people long after I’m gone?

I don’t know how much choice I have in the matter. The kinds of people I’d consider among the latter probably didn’t think much about themselves at all.

All I know is that the people I’ve been most influenced by probably had no idea they were doing it. So when I think my life doesn’t amount to much, maybe God is doing something that can’t be measured or seen until later.

(And while funerals have given me much to think about, I’m also glad we have a wedding to attend in the fall. Because balance is a good thing.)

What do you hope you leave behind when you die?


2 thoughts on “When the measure of a life is immeasurable

  1. Great post, especially as Mother’s Day approaches. Hooray for all those little, daily acts that make a big difference.

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