Procession of thought

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Why do we do what we do? Is it for praise, money, recognition or power? Do we do what we do merely because we have to? Is it because it's expected of us or to gain love and approval from others? Do we live our lives for others or for ourselves? If we're unsure, it's time we looked within ourselves.

What caused me to reflect on that scenario was pondering a passing funeral procession. Some I've seen are long and spectacular. Others are short with hardly anyone in line. Some people have merely graveside rites while others rate awesome pomp and circumstance. Why do some merit a large attendance and others go scarcely noticed?

I stood outside the church that blustery day watching an especially short line of cars start their engines. I wondered what the deceased would think if he were gazing upon his parade. Would he have said, "Is this all there is to show for my life -- a few cars of people? I believed I had more friends, but the amount of people showing their respects reveals the opposite." Or would he have realized that large or small crowds were no estimate of the value of his life, what he genuinely contributed, how well he was known or how satisfied he was with what he achieved? Could he have looked back and said "I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith; I have finished the race," as St. Paul did? (Timothy 4:7)

Consequently, I attempted to evaluate what I did and why. I concluded if the size of my funeral procession spoke for my life, it may be an accurate estimation or it may paint a false picture. But regardless of how many attended my last rites, the important thing was that I and God were pleased with what I accomplished.

Was I true to myself? How many people knew about my undertakings didn't matter. If I felt I had given my best I had met the criterion. If I had performed my job proficiently, reared my children as well as I could, worshipped and loved God, treated others rightly and justly, then I had finished my race. At least I had been true to my beliefs, dreams and judgments of moral right and wrong. No line of cars filled with people attending my funeral could spell out what my life had stood for.

Perhaps the love of one's family and touching the lives of others is a better measurement than what can be clearly seen. Jesus asked us to "Go inside our closet and close the door and pray in secret and our father who hears in secret will answer our prayer" (Matthew 6:6). God, for sure, knows what we have done. When our light here is extinguished, only a brighter one will shine. There's nothing sad about leaving when someone knows his journey will lead him to a better place.

After mulling over what is evident on the outside of one's life and what is genuine on the inside, I recognized that the notoriety of one's exit -- or its lack thereof -- didn't matter. God was the only one who must be considered when summarizing someone's life. Only we can know what drives us to do what we do. We are aware of what we have tried to accomplish and what the results have been. However, sometimes people never know what seeds he has sown, the stones he has turned or whose lives have been changed because of his efforts.

Where I once felt distress at viewing small funeral processions, I have, at last, realized it truly doesn't matter. The size of the crowd reveals little about the worth of someone's life. What counts is that we are true to ourselves, that we fight the good fight, keep the faith and finish the race.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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