Her obituary stopped me dead in my tracks.
I didn’t know her at all. I didn’t even go searching for it. In fact, I don’t even get the paper. I just happened to be carefully wrapping my belongings in some borrowed old newspaper for my upcoming move. Thousands of tiny black words leaving their sooty grime on my hands. Words blurring together indistinguishably from the rest of the printed page.
But these words made me freeze.
Her name in bold black type caught my eye. Maybe because it was the same as mine: Joyce. I stared, blinking at it for a few seconds before scanning the words below her name, desperately darting from line to line, intent on learning what this woman was like.
Who was she?
Was she loved?
What did she spend her life doing?
What would they say about her?
Did she make an impact while she was here?
Or did she barely leave an imprint on this soil?
My eyes locked onto the paper for any sign that this woman had done something that mattered.
What I found was the standard obituary fare. Born on this date. Died on this date. Lived in this town. Married her sweetheart. Worked here and there. Had kids and grandkids. Enjoyed local sports. Attended this church.
And that was it.
I know it’s impossible to unpack an entire life in a few brief paragraphs. I know the newspaper clipping can’t tell me all her joys, struggles, heartaches, pains, loves, laughs, experiences, or who she influenced. But I wanted to know, how will she be remembered?
And then it dawned on me . . .
How will I be remembered?
Will I do anything of lasting significance that will get me remembered at all? Or will my name be nothing more than a smudge crumpled up around someone’s dishes?
The Bible compares our lives to a dream. When you awake you can remember bits and pieces of it, but the longer the day drags on, the foggier it gets until the memory fades completely. Similarly, we are compared to grass, which flourishes by day but is faded and withered by evening (Psalm 90:5-6). Our lives only last a moment in the grand scheme of time.
“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty . . . They are soon gone, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).
So perhaps I have another forty years of life left—maybe—unless the Lord providentially calls me home sooner or returns. What am I going to do with those years? And what have I done with the first (almost) forty? I realize it’s too late to change the latter. So what can I do to focus on living the second half well?
I know I will never be famous (nor do I want to be), never change the world as a philanthropist, never write a book that will be read for centuries to come. When I die, I will only be remembered by a small set of people, and most dearly by my immediate family. But even if I spend my life loving and serving them, pouring my time, resources, and energy into them, what happens when they are gone?
What kind of life leaves an impact that matters? What kind of life leaves a legacy that extends longer than a few meager generations?
King Solomon asked this exact question. The wisest and richest person to ever live realized that wisdom and wealth were worthless and wondered what it was all good for. If all we do, learn, and acquire either dies with us or is passed down to the next person so that we cannot guarantee what will happen to it, then what’s the point? All is vanity (Ecclesiastes 1-2).
However, the wisest person on earth also knew that we were meant for more than this world. He recognized that God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Which means that in order to make an impact, to live a life that matters beyond the daily death dispatch, we must set our sights on eternity—on the people who were fashioned for it and on the One who is waiting for us there.
Solomon finished his discourse on the purpose of life by saying this:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
This lines up with what Jesus said in the New Testament when asked what was the greatest commandment—or, what should we spend our lives doing?
Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). He goes on to say that the whole Bible is about these two things (Matthew 22:40).
If I live my life like Jesus and Solomon said, to its fullest and greatest meaning, then I will spend it fearing God—by loving him in a respectful, awe-induced way with my whole being, in everything I do—which causes me to want to obey his commandments.
The second greatest commandment is to love my neighbor, which is everyone around me. And the most loving thing I can do is tell them their hearts have been made for eternity and one day the God who made them “will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
All we have done between the dash of our birth and death will be held to account by the holy God of the universe. The only way to spend our eternity in heaven instead of hell is to repent of our wrongdoings and believe in Jesus Christ and his perfect sacrifice for our sin.
Then if the people I tell about Christ believe and are faithful and obedient to tell others until the fullness of God’s people are brought into his kingdom, that will be a life well lived. That will be a life to be remembered.
As I’m writing this, I received a message alerting me to the death of a dear woman from one of my previous churches. A fresh reminder that death can come at any moment and our length of days here is not guaranteed. How will she be remembered? I’m not sure. But I know how I want to be remembered.
What about you?
How will you be remembered?