When my son Carl was born, his great-grandpa Ben was 96 years old. Ben’s beloved Molly, to whom he’d been married for almost 70 years, had died four years prior. Ben wrote a letter to the infant Carl, sealed it in an envelope, and directed us to give it to Carl when he turned 20 on June 20 of the year 2000. In that brief letter – less than 150 words – Ben emphasized the importance of carefully choosing a spouse (“Scripture says it is not good for man to live alone, and a new problem is at hand”), and then went on to encourage staying ever-faithful to those vows. Through it all, he recognized the fragility of life and wrapped his entire message in faith, ending his letter with “When the Lord calls for one of you, a new problem will show up – you will be alone again. So my advice is, stick to your faith and trust in the Lord.” It is a touching and heartfelt message to his great-grandson.
We have similar models in Paul and Jesus, who each delivered eloquent “last messages.” In these statements, they summarized the most important themes of their lives and teachings. They clearly hoped to pass on their wisdom and greatest lessons to those they loved.
Although I hope to live a long time yet, I have been reflecting lately on what my “last messages” might look like. It is a fascinating and worthwhile exercise. It requires me to distill and summarize the most important aspects of my life, and the driving principles that guide my actions and relationships. It calls for discerning the primary nuggets of wisdom I might offer to those I love. It forces me to articulate my self-definition, and the meaning, purpose, and central vocations of my life.
This exercise is also forming goals that I strive for. If I want people to remember me by these principles, then I’d better live them every day right now. For instance, I value kindness, openness, and being non-judgmental; values I would like to embody and transmit. Yet when I get annoyed in traffic or by someone’s offensive comment, my automatic reaction is to pronounce that person “an idiot.” Now I stop myself. That is not who I wish to be, or what I wish to pass on. Instead, I say a prayer for those persons and wish them the same happiness that I wish for myself.
This is not easy, and I sometimes fail. It continues to amaze me how hard it is to truly live up to the values I profess. But Jesus never said discipleship is easy. In fact, a new problem is constantly showing up. Yet in its midst, I can stick to my faith, trust in the Lord, and choose who I wish to be. I could pass on nothing greater than that.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.