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Do you ever wonder who will be at your funeral?
I know, that’s incredibly morbid. But I’ve thought about it, and continue to think about it. Perhaps it’s because I experienced my father’s funeral at 19 and saw the rich blessing of love and relationships with others he left on this earth. There were close to a thousand people who attended my father’s funeral that were from all walks of life. Some were friends, coworkers, family, acquaintances, some were high executives from his company, even old drinking buddies from his softball days. It was a mix of people who were all connected and influenced by my father. Seeing all of these people in one room that day, to honor and celebrate my father, quickened me to the reality that life is fleeting and people matter.
Perhaps that’s why I live with such urgency, I have known the reality of life and death, and seen that how we live daily will be how we’re remembered eternally. I have learned life is not so much about what you do, but who and how you love.
As I read Henri Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus, I thought about his funeral. Henri Nouwen was a Dutch-born Catholic priest who once taught at prestigious schools such as Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard, then upon spiritual burnout moved to L’Arche to minister to the mentally disabled. I imagine that at his memorial, there would have been people from all walks of life, from Harvard graduates to the mentally disabled and everything in between.
In his book he says:
So I moved from Harvard to L’Arche, from the best and the brightest, wanting to rule the world, to men and women who had few or no words and were considered, at best, marginal to the needs of our society.
Henri Nouwen gave up the great, to be with the least. He left his prestigious platform, to follow Jesus into the mission of the marginalized. He went from being known to unknown, and did it all in the name of Jesus.
Since nobody could read my books, the books could not impress anyone, and since most of them never went to school, my twenty years at Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard did not provide a significant introduction.
I was suddenly faced with my naked self, open for affirmations and rejections, hugs and punches, smiles and tears, all dependent simply on how I was perceived at the moment.
This experience was and, in many ways, is still the most important experience of my new life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity. These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my relevant self—the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things—and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.
Nouwen writes this as a book to Christian leaders of the future, but I think it’s purposeful for any and all Christians. He brings us back to the heart of God, to enter in with others from all walks of life, to fear God more than man, to know and love Jesus in a deeper way than we ever dreamed possible.
Nouwen redirects our hearts to be about the right things; not our works, our results, and our popularity but our relationship with Jesus and resting in His love.
The question is not: How many people take you seriously? How much are you going to accomplish? Can you show some results? But: Are you in love with Jesus? Perhaps another way of putting the question would be: Do you know the incarnate God? In our world of loneliness and despair, there is an enormous need for men and women who know the heart of God, a heart that forgives, cares, reaches out and wants to heal (p.37-38)
Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begins to invade the human soul, this is not something that comes from God. This sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any condition or limits.
He reminds us the most important things in this life are how we love God and love others through relationship.
How can we lay down our life for those with whom we are not even allowed to enter into a deep personal relationship? Laying down our life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life.
We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.
He reminds of the call we each have as Christians to know and follow God, even into the unknown, the uncomfortable, and the undesired. That’s what is sacred.
Jesus has a different vision of maturity: It is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go.
This book reminds me of the two most important things in life: God and others. Knowing, loving, and following Jesus, which flows, into knowing, loving, and serving others. Not popularity, celebrity, wealth, beauty, comfort, etc.
In the Name of Jesus reminds me that life is not about all of your accomplishments, but about this one important relationship. And from this one important love relationship, I can learn to love and serve others as the most important call on my life.
When I think about my funeral and people sharing stories about my life, I hope my legacy will be “She loved Jesus.” I hope the people who come to my funeral are from all walks of life, like those who attended Nouwen’s funeral from the highest of society to the marginalized. I hope my life, like Nouwen’s will be remembered as one who did all things “In the name of Jesus.”
Interested in reading In the Name of Jesus? Check it out HERE!
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Image credit: Jonathan Vivaas Kise, Creative Commons