Thoughts from a Visit to the House of Mourning

A few weeks ago, our church lost a wonderful lady to a sudden, severe illness. Although I didn’t know her very well, I worked with her in Awana for a couple years, and I will very much miss seeing her warm, cheerful smile.

Death always hits hardest when it is someone close to you. But this woman’s death still struck a chord with me. She was only a few years older than me, and she leaves behind a sweet son who is the same age as some of my children. So looking at her passing is possibly the first time I’ve seriously considered the thought, “What if it had been me?” As a woman who is still “young” by most standards, I can tend to think of my life as far from the end. But this sudden loss of another young woman reminds me of the reality that none of us is guaranteed even tomorrow.

Since then, I’ve had a scene from Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People on my mind. He asks you to imagine walking into a funeral, and after a bit of description, he reveals that the funeral you’re imagining is your own. Although this could sound rather eerie or morbid, he uses this exercise to ask some important questions. What do you imagine the people at your funeral would say about you? What kind of legacy will you leave behind? And if your evaluation of these questions is less than flattering, what can you do to change that? His point is that we must “begin with the end in mind”—begin living our lives in such a way that the result is something of which we can be proud.

This check of perspective can do many things for us. For one, I’m sure that many things I consider “important” ultimately don’t matter at all. Maybe I need to ditch that time-sucking habit, relax on my insistence that a certain thing be done, or be willing to let go of that grudge I’ve been holding. If I knew my date of future death and saw my clock ticking down, would I still be wasting time and energy on [fill-in-the-blank]?

It can also help me narrow down the list of things that do matter. For instance, am I passing on to my children not only the skills and knowledge they need for their future, but also a passion for following Christ and loving others?

How will I be remembered? Will my children think of me as the mom who spent time getting to know their hearts and build them up, or the mom who was too wrapped up in her own concerns and interests to really pay attention? Will my husband remember all the ways I tried to care for him and demonstrate my love, or will he mostly think of times of tension and strife? Will my family and friends think of me the way I’d like to be remembered, or if I’m honest, will they recall the unflattering parts of my personality—or (possibly worse) remember almost nothing at all?

On a similar note, am I creating good memories with those who are close to me? Do I take time to truly enjoy life, build relationships, and have fun? Am I generous with my time and resources, or am I too busy trying to reserve them for “special occasions” that may never happen? (Not that we should be indulging all the time, but I think it’s also unhealthy never tomake occasions for a little indulgence. Even a simple day can be a special one if you decide to try to make it so.)

I don’t really have answers to many of these questions yet, and some of the answers I do have are rather convicting. But I hope this sorrowful occasion reminds me to keep these questions in mind and strive for better answers. I think this is why Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” In the busyness of life, we often need a reminder that life is short, and we need to make the best of the time we have here on earth.

—Jessica

Photo credit: iStock.

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