I attended a funeral recently of someone great.
Not great in the “mighty,” “powerful,” “famous,” or “legendary” sense, although I know he was most likely some of all of that.
No, this guy was great in a deeper, truer sense. Dear to family and friends. Beloved by countless others. Someone whose life was so full of love and laughter and wonderful stories that I couldn’t help but imagine that there was so much more to tell than would fit in a single service.
I observed all this from the remote anonymity of the livestream. COVID has cost us a lot, and one of the most horrendous is dealing with the grief of losing someone dear without the hugs and handholding, constant presence and casseroles, time spent surrounded and loved and held together by an entire faith community whose heart breaks with yours.
I’ve never been much for funerals.
The heaviness of all that sadness, grief, devastation. Too much to process, too much to think about. Growing up, I’d do just about anything to avoid one. And I was lucky in that. Very lucky.
And now, working for a church means being connected in some way, sometimes closely and sometimes from the distance, to this sacred ritual and all it means to the loved ones of the one who has died. Funerals have become a very different thing from this unexpected new vantage point.
And over years it has surprised me again and again as I hear the eulogies of people I didn’t know — and some that I did — what the stories told at funerals say about the life they’re memorializing.
Often, I come away wishing I had known the person better. And even more often, inspired to be worthy of stories like that. And this always leads me to wonder what stories others might tell about me.
What does my life say?
Parker Palmer wrote a book called Let Your Life Speak in which he invites us to listen to our own stories — the stories from our own life and our intersections with lives of others. He says this will help us gain insight that will illuminate our pathway toward our true calling. When I think about it that way, I can’t help but feel the challenge tucked within it.
What are my stories?
How has my life intersected with the lives of others in a way that produces stories worth telling?
“Let your life speak,” is also an old Quaker adage meant to inspire us to live the life we were meant to live, the life that wants to live in us. It’s about the introspection and self-awareness that allows us to hear the authentic calling of our soul, the Divine spark in each of us that, if we allow it, becomes our own north star, leading us into our own story.
In that way, and in so many others, each life is a gift of its own making.
Sometimes it’s not something we wanted (“Hey, I didn’t ask to be born.”)
Sometimes it doesn’t fit (“I think I was born into the wrong time, or place or, family.”)
Sometimes it doesn’t suit our style (“This is not who I wanted to be!”)
And yet, here we are. No refunds, no exchanges.
Some say that who we are is God’s gift to us; what we do with that is our gift back to God.
So what will we do with this gift? What do the stories of our life say to others? What do those stories say to us? To God?
If someone listens in on my funeral, will they wish they had known me? Will they come away inspired to live into their own stories, to consider the life that wants to live in them?
Melinda Folse Smoot is a writer, editor, collaborator, and content strategist. In addition to her work for FUMCFW, she has a deep passion for telling stories that make a difference. With a focus on faith, grace, hope, and spirit for faith-based organizations and other clients, Melinda is always on the lookout for people with inspiring stories to share. If you have a story of faith you’d like to share, please contact Melinda at firstname.lastname@example.org.