Monday, April 9, 2018

Sometimes It Takes a Funeral

You don’t have to remind me. I realize that in a January post (just three short months ago) I blatantly proclaimed “joy” as my focus word for 2018. I still claim that word, and I still strive to obey the Apostle Paul’s command to “be full of joy in the Lord” (Philippians 4:4). But sometimes that joy in the Lord must struggle to overcome my human proclivity to slip, for no identifiable reason, into the doldrums. Not mad or deeply depressed. Just in need of an attitude adjustment. 

Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often, but I had such a morning a few days ago. Maybe my dour mood was the result of a restless night. Or maybe it was brought about by a return of winter temperatures that had worn out their welcome. Or—to paraphrase a great line from Steel Magnolias—maybe it was because the elastic in my pantyhose was shot. Whatever the source of my malaise, I needed a strong dose of encouragement to lift me out of it. 

I got it from a very unlikely place.

On my schedule that day was a memorial service for a former assistant pastor at my church. Marvin had overseen congregational care and nurturing and, in my opinion, was the perfect person for the job. We weren’t really what you’d call close friends, but we often exchanged greetings and handshakes at church. No matter how brief those exchanges, I always felt good after they occurred. Marvin always—and I mean always—had words of encouragement to share. At over eighty years old, he was one of the most gracious, positive men I knew.

From the messages and testimonies at his service, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Because that’s what Marvin was—an encourager. The trait was second nature to him. In fact, one of his eulogizers referred to him as “a Barnabas”—that early church leader who was nicknamed “Son of Encouragement.” 

Marvin had planned much of his own funeral, and to use one of the phrases he often bestowed on others, it was “the total package.” Marvin’s life had not been free from pain and challenges. He had dealt with job frustration, depression, and divorce. Yet the music and the singers and the messengers he selected to participate in his service all gave testimony to God’s power to lift us from our hurts and  problems—even the doldrums—to a life of hope and joy in Him.

My heart ached for Marvin’s close friends and family who certainly were suffering a great loss in their lives. But I also was uplifted. A man who had encouraged so many people while alive continued to do so from beyond the grave. I left that service determined to be more encouraging in my own words and actions—an area in which I often fall short. On a day when I really needed it, my spirit had been refreshed with  a sense of gratitude for people like Marvin and for all that is good in this world.

As I said, sometimes it takes a funeral to give us a renewed outlook. Not a tragic service in which the departed left this world far too early or unprepared. But one that is truly a celebration of a life well lived. 

          How about you? Have you ever found inspiration in an unusual place or circumstance?