Lately I’ve been asking myself a question.
I’ve recently done two funerals. At both funerals family members and friends shared memories of their loved ones who had died. They shared a few funny stories about each one. But what they talked about most was the acts of kindness or love they did. About their thoughtfulness and how they served others. About what a wonderful wife, mother, and grandmother the woman was. About what a great husband, dad, and grandpa the man was. About how each of them loved the Lord and loved people.
There was no extolling their great accomplishments or how much money they made. Nothing about awards or recognition. No list of buildings they’d built or inventions they’d patented or great discoveries they’d made.
It’s had me thinking about a question someone said we should ask ourselves: What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
What will your children say? What will your wife say? Will people say things like, “She was a great Mom.” “He was a wonderful husband—he really took good care of his wife in her last years.” “She was the most humble woman I know.” “He was the best brother in the world. He always put others first.” “My mom always had time to listen to us.” “Dad did so much with us when we were kids.” “She was my best friend.” “He was always serving someone.” “She never thought of herself.”
Or will your loved ones say things like this: “I never really knew my Dad because he was always at work.” “Mom didn’t seem to have much time for us as kids.” “Dad always seemed disappointed in me.” “Mom and I didn’t talk that much.” “Dad seemed like he was angry with us all the time.”
If you look at all these statements, both good and bad, they all have to do with relationships and character. Relationships: she was a loving mother. Dad always had time for us. My mom was my best friend. And character: she was the most humble woman I know. Every week he’d read to a blind man. He was always joyful.
Relationships and character. That’s what’s going to matter in the end. I once heard this statement: Success in any other area of life cannot make up for failure at home. This is not to condemn anyone—I’ve failed many times as a husband and dad. But like the question I’m asking today this statement helps me focus. What if I’m the most “successful” man in the world? What if I make all kinds of money or create the next YouTube, yet neglect my wife and kids? Will I really be successful? What do I want people to say at my funeral?
An even more important question: what will God say when you die? Will he say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master”? To hear those words would mean more than almost any others.
What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? This question helps us focus on what’s really important. It reminds us of what really matters in the end.
We can gain the world and lose our soul. We can go after riches and miss out on relationships. We can pursue success at the expense of character. So I’m grateful for the question funerals make me ask.
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.