There are many important events in a person’s life: first day of school, first day on the job, losing a job, first day in a new home, winning an award, getting a driver’s license, turning 18 (and 50), and others. Perhaps the most important events in life are commencements, weddings, and funerals. These are the events in every life that mark beginnings, joinings, and endings.
While there are several “starts” in life, commencements are probably the most celebrated. The person graduating from high school, college, or grad school often thinks of it as an end of a journey, but it is really a beginning. That’s why it is called “commencement”—to commence, to begin. It is the start of a new journey that leverages the years of work that came before. I’ve been a participant in four of my own commencements and what was likely the last one, at age 43, was clearly the most significant new beginning of my professional life. Commencements generate a sense of potential.
Weddings are special events, too, because they are the joining of two life stories into one. There is no other human institution quite like it. Ordained by God, the merging of a man’s life with a woman’s has no equal in society and is thus the bedrock of every culture on earth. Accordingly, weddings are very special events. When Julie and I married 25 years ago we were blessed to have family and friends there to celebrate that union. Likewise, we have enjoyed celebrating others’ weddings as their family and friends. Weddings generate a sense of hope.
Commencements celebrate beginnings, weddings celebrate joinings, and funerals celebrate endings. Of the three, funerals are easily the most important. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t say they are the most enjoyable. I said they are the most important. I say that because it is funerals that challenge us to stop and ask, “What is life really about?” We tend to ask questions like this at the end of stories. At the end of a good book, we pause to reflect on the author’s message. At the end of a thoughtful movie, we consider its messages and values. At the end of a biography, we are confronted with the purpose of that life. Books, movies, biographies, historical events—they are all stories. Funerals celebrate life stories and they generate a sense of purpose.
Over the past several weeks, I have been considering the message of one such life story. My friend, Tim, died one week ago today. Tim’s body lost a two-and-a-half year battle to ALS. Although Tim, the soul, the child of God, won the battle of life (through the blood of Jesus Christ). He now celebrates life with his Heavenly Father.
Tim and his wife, Barb, asked me to present part of Tim’s eulogy, to talk about Tim and his family life. We’ve known them since 1995 and our families have grown up together. Talking with Barb and others to collect my thoughts about what to say at the funeral today has helped me study Tim’s life message. It has helped me to consider and celebrate what he said about life purpose.
In Tim’s case, the message is all about grace and humility. Tim was a graceful and humble man. I don’t ever remember seeing Tim angry, even at contracting ALS. I don’t ever remember Tim being too proud, even in the unavoidable indignity of ALS. Tim’s short life story of 40 years taught more than many do at twice the age. Tim’s life is a challenge for all of us to consider our own purpose and life message. (Update Dec 12, 2012: I encourage you to read Barb’s blog post reflecting on the funeral.)
One reason that funerals are the most important celebrations is that they cause us to look at life differently. Commencements help us look at the future of a person. Weddings help us to look at the future of a couple. Funerals help us to look at our own future. I encourage you to attend commencements, weddings, and funerals whenever you can!