This Saturday Deb and I attended the touching memorial service for Jeff Engler, the former UC Berkeley student and Pi Kappa Phi brother who passed away in December. We had known Jeff for a long time, as his family are good friends of ours from church. Maybe some of you knew him as well, since he had been to a handful of Cru events and Bible studies over the years. It’s stunning to realize we won’t have the opportunity to spend any more time with him.
Sitting in the memorial service at the packed out San Leandro High School performing arts theater, tears flowed as we heard accounts of how Jeff had impacted their lives and how he had inspired so many in so few years. Former coaches, neighborhood chums and high school friends took turns recounting the good times. His life had touched many. We mentally recalled our first encounter with him years ago, as he and his cat tenderly entertained our then one-year-old Kate while we interacted with his parents.
However, the most haunting moment came when Jeff’s father took his turn at the podium. He fought to choke back the tears as he shared about the loss of his boy, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it myself. You could physically see the pain in this grown man’s body, as he bravely and courageously stood before this community bearing his soul and laying his grief out for all to see. I have never been in the presence of such great pain.
Long ago, Solomon wrote:
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2
In life, we all want answers. We want to know why things happen, especially the bad things. When tragedy strikes, we seek out assurances. We want to know there is a larger purpose for the suffering and grief we go through. What seems to happen most often, though, is those answers are insufficient and too little too late. Wisdom pursues some of those answers before the course of time forces them upon us.
What Solomon is saying here is that there is wisdom found in wrestling with these questions. He is saying that the house of mourning is the place in which we will all eventually arrive, and it is prudent to pay attention to those who are already there. Our culture has a significant aversion to pain and grief, and we will gladly pay to pretend that life is nothing more than a non-stop house of feasting, where pleasure and happiness have no end.
Funerals are times when we are jolted out of our normal patterns and forced to deal with questions we shove to the back closets of our minds. Who wants to spend time thinking about such heavy things when there’s urgent and time-sensitive work to be done. These services, though, do us a great service by bringing these questions back to the forefront. They interrupt our lives and make us wrestle with what we’re living for.
One of the questions my campus director at Miami often would ask was what we would want heard said about us at our own funeral. On the surface, it seems like a morbid question. But as Solomon writes, thinking about one’s own mortality is not foolish, but wise. Avoiding the question and just hoping it goes away is the epitome of foolishness. You can procrastinate on the question, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to die. “The living takes it to heart”.
What I want said about me at my funeral should be the driving force in my decisions today. I say “should be,” because it’s easy to create a standard in which to live by but yet still ignore. But I want to be known as someone who loved others well, who took God seriously and myself less so. I want to be known as a man who had a clear passion for Jesus, who pointed others towards Him. That I was a sacrificial husband and a tender-hearted father.
What do you want said about you at your funeral? I hate to say it, but unless Jesus comes back during your life, you’re going to die. I’ll probably beat you there, but there’s guarantee even of that! How you want your life to turn out impacts how you live your life today.
“The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.” Ecclesiastes 7:4