My treks through cemeteries a few weeks ago, left me thinking about many things—how fleeting life is, how unaware we are that this is true, how unaware the dead are of the living, and how little thought we give to what we will leave behind when we are no longer on earth. There were the words the dead had inscribed on their gravestones, but other than those words, most who lie in graves are more and more forgotten with time.
So what if a soldier had crossed the Delaware with George Washington on that fateful Christmas day in 1776? His name is no longer remembered. Others were remembered by the wars they’d fought, but we have no idea how they battled sin in their lives or whether they ever called on the name of Jesus for salvation. That most important battle, the only one that counts in the end, we know nothing about. There was a businessman who later became a great city’s founder. But how did he deal with problems in his life? What kinds of things do his descendants know about him? Do they tell stories about him that have been passed down through succeeding generations? That body buried there, lifeless now, has a spirit somewhere else—and he now knows the outcome of his life. Yet, his audible voice died with him so we no longer hear what he has to say. Only a tombstone remains.
“ Have I used my time most effectively to pass on the deep spiritual truths that I have come to believe and have experienced? ”
Within the last couple of years as I have researched my own family history, a scoundrel of sorts was revealed: a man with a monument erected in his memory in a western Ohio town, giving him credit for things he may not have even done. One thing I know he did do—he left his wife, my great-great- grandmother, for a younger woman, leaving her alone with six children to raise. But I learned that from research, not because his descendants passed down bad stories. We never spoke of him.
I am leaving behind so many journals with my most private thoughts and insights. Sometimes I wonder how they will be received by my family. I am glad that my family will be able to read them and maybe understand who I was a little better. Maybe they shouldn’t have to wait till I’m gone to know some of that. Have I used my time most effectively to pass on the deep spiritual truths that I have come to believe and have experienced? Have they learned to seek Him with their whole hearts because they saw me doing that? Or will they speak more about the food I cooked, the books we read, the vacations we took, and the games we played together?
“ These teachings must be applied and illustrated every day in moment by moment living. ”
The numerous places in the Bible about teaching your children what God commands gripped me when I became a parent. Like this one from Deuteronomy 6:4-7: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
I thought years ago that my parents had done a pretty remarkable job teaching their children, and I wanted to do the same. I still think that about my parents, but I also know now that there is so much more than teaching, catechizing, and discussing biblical truths and doctrines. In the morning and the evening. As we walk and as we sit down. These teachings must be applied and illustrated every day in moment by moment living. Therein is where we [I] as parents fail so often. Because we are sinners. Let us never forget that. There are no perfect parents. The parents blessed by God are those trusting Him and serving Him with their parenting. God promises to change our children’s hearts as we model Him before them.
“ It’s a tough job to teach children how to know and love God, and that’s because we find it difficult to know and love God. ”
Often, we don’t discuss our sinful tendencies with our children; and when we see the same tendencies in them or when they grow up with the same sinful tendencies, we discipline them and fault them without acknowledging that this is an area we are very weak in ourselves. We often fail to admit we are imperfect, equating weakness with admitting bad parenting. Too often we say to listen to our words— our words—not God’s. It’s a tough job to teach children how to know and love God, and that’s because we find it difficult to know and love God.
Complaining comes out of my mouth a lot. Reminds me of the Israelites coming out of Egypt that I’ve been telling my young Sunday School students about. “You’d think they’d learn,” I say. But the children know they don’t, and that they get in trouble over and over again because they just can’t seem to break the habit of being ungrateful. Back in my mothering prime, I griped. The kids heard. They probably will remember that. And no doubt, hearing it has a certain amount of impact on how they look at things now.
Many times, in front of our children, we complain bitterly about our lives and turn around and scold them for complaining to us about theirs. We long for things we can’t have, in front of the children. Why can’t we have enough money for our wants that we often misname as needs? Our definition of need is often greedy, while we punish the greed we see in our children. We make excuses for being rude to people who irritate us and wonder why our children are self-centered and unkind. We talk badly about a family member and then punish the kids when they quarrel with one another. We want to appear to our children to have all the answers, yet we live in confusion.
“ We want to appear to our children to have all the answers, yet we live in confusion. ”
When I am gone, will people remember what I thought about things, about people? Will they know who hurt me, or will they feel I unknowingly (or knowingly) hurt them? Will the things that they remember be the times I sinned against them, or made them feel like their presence was unwanted by me? Was a callous thing I did when I thought no one saw, actually seen? By just one person who hasn’t forgotten? Was I quick to confess my offenses or quiet about any wrong I might have done? Did I never come to see any wrong that I did? Did I flatter others to gain attention for myself? Did I not speak up when someone wronged another in my presence? Did I forgive? Did bitterness fester inside me? I often think of myself more highly than I ought. I am aware of that, and I might not be the only one who sees that in myself.
As I get older, I understand a lot more than I did when I was young. God has been patient with me and His grace has been my strength and healer. The disappointments and hard times have knocked me down a few pegs. As I struggled through them, I began to see much more clearly the wretch that I am and the forgiving and holy God that He is. In that bewildering time I wanted my children, my relations, my friends, to know that I sought Christ. And that He never failed. I longed for them to know the same intimacy with Him that I was finding.
“ 'Life is hard in a thousand ways, and what comes the easiest to us is getting lost,' writes Ann Voskamp. ”
“Life is hard in a thousand ways, and what comes the easiest to us is getting lost,” writes Ann Voskamp. We need to be constantly aware that we need Jesus. That should be plainly seen by the people who know us best. Our fallibility should be transparent to our children as well as our constant need for repentance and an infallible Savior. Only Jesus. We don’t have the answers. Only God’s Word does. Our love isn’t one hundred percent. But we can know the Creator of love and we can experience His steadfast love.
“ He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD….He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel. ”
I just finished reading 1 and 2 Kings. All of Judah’s and Israel’s kings are remembered in those books—the good ones as well as the evil ones. So few good ones, though, like King Hezekiah: “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD….He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; whenever he went out, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:3-7). Can you imagine having those words for an epitaph written in the scriptures to be read by millions through the ages!
Or how about this tribute from Psalm 44:
“O God, we have heard with our ears,
our fathers have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
in the days of old:
you with your own hand drove out the nations,
but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples,
but them you set free;
for not by their own sword did they win the land,
nor did their own arm save them,
but your right hand and your arm,
and the light of your face,
for you delighted in them.
You are my King, O God;
ordain salvation for Jacob!
…In God we have boasted continually,
and we will give thanks to your name forever.”
While I’m stumbling around in my wilderness, Jesus is standing sure ahead of me, telling His Father that this pathetic sinner, this failing child, His child, is going to make it because He’s with me. Calling me back from stumbling blocks and diversions in my way and leading me tenderly through dark places by lighting the way with His righteous right hand. Make no mistake. I am only victorious because Jesus is. Voskamp has written, “There is tender mystery in God’s ways.”
“ I am only victorious because Jesus is. ”
I always remember one pastor friend (still living) by the way he signs every communication—“Press on.” He takes this from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” My reason. My goal. How I hope I am remembered.
In one of my journals, I have written these notes about Psalm 32: “You [God] are shouting ‘delivered’ all around me. You instruct me and lead me. Your hand literally guides me. Your steadfast love surrounds me.” I want to proclaim this loudly by my words and actions, while I yet live, so that it continues to echo through the lives of my descendants for generations to come!