A Great Ending

Have you ever been to a really good funeral? This may sound like a strange, even inappropriate question. However, a few days ago I went to the funeral of Dave, a wonderful 75 year-old man who was dearly loved by his family, friends, fellow church members, colleagues … and me.

It was one of the most powerful and spiritually enriching services I have ever experienced. There was a palpable sadness amongst the hundreds in attendance. But the diverse voices coming together to share his life narrative provided an astonishing testimonial to a life well lived. We all went away more in touch with what is most important. Few things deliver a message so piercingly clarifying as the funeral of a man of character.

Dave was a pilot, a surveyor, a father of two and was married to Linda for over 50 years. Although his life was marked by several tragedies, he remained steadfast in his faith in God, his relentless commitment to his loved ones, and his determination to achieve his goals. He said “yes” to God and to life, throughout his journey, regardless of the obstacles in his path. His life story was an illustration of the prophetic truth in John’s gospel, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.” *

Pastor Paul officiated. He invited us to freely express what was in our hearts. “It is okay to cry today. It is okay to laugh today. We will lament; we will rejoice.  We will shake our fist at God and ask “why”; we will praise him for the life he gave his faithful servant.”

A rich tapestry was woven, reflecting the many colors of Dave’s life: sorrow, humor, tears, laughter, prayer, and a wealth of gorgeous music. And holding it all together was an intricate pattern of faith. This was the inspiration that I endeavored to take with me. Any complacent people amongst us were probably effectively agitated. For Dave’s was a life of purpose.

I went away pondering an important question: at my funeral, what do I want to be said of my life? Would I be remembered for my values? My actions? My relationships? My accomplishments? My failings? My work? My faith? What parts of my life have eternal significance, and for which of these things will I be remembered?

Dave’s purposeful life and incredible funeral reminded me of a central principle from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: begin with the end in mind. Covey teaches the power of creating a clear, compelling vision of what one’s life is all about, going so far as to define the destination. Having the destination clearly in mind affects every decision along the way.

Beginning with the end in mind is based on the principle of vision. It is vision that gives one the power and purpose to rise above the baggage and act based on what matters most. He suggests the value of creating a personal mission statement or credo. “It’s drafting the blueprint before constructing the building, writing the script before performing the play, creating the flight plan before taking off in the airplane.”**

As a pilot, Dave understood the value of a flight plan – in aviation and in life.

Creating your personal mission statement can help you be well and stay well. It supports a big picture perspective, preventing you from getting consumed with the small stuff – bogged down in the daily drudgery of life. Short-term setbacks are more easily tolerated and transcended when higher principles and long term goals are embraced.

Influenced by Covey and other management writers, I decided several years ago to write my vocational mission statement. I call it a “credo” which means a formula of belief. It helps me stay on the right track, like a compass pointing me in the right direction. It guides and corrects me in my daily life and work. As I recite, pray, and meditate on it, I am reconnected with the principles and goals that I stand for. My best days are the ones in which I remember it.

When I fall short, as I often do, I know that I am in need of some redirection, perhaps some self-care and renewal. Maybe I just need to play or rest, or take a day off. There are so many distractions and so much noise that can detract from what is most important. Petty conflicts, confining policies, excessive regulations, and obstructive bureaucracy can pose barriers to achieving my vision. The important thing is to not lose sight of it; to hold fast to what is good. I believe deeply in the verse, “without vision, the people perish.”

My credo reads:

Founded in purpose

Serving in joy

Mastery in performance

Here is what this means to me:

Founded in purpose:  There is an inspired purpose to the work I have chosen, and life is a continual process of uncovering and maintaining fidelity to it. It is to offer hope and healing, health and wellness, and improved quality of life to those who have suffered hurts and losses. It is about binding the wounds of the brokenhearted, offering a cup of cold water to the thirsty. Any pain I have overcome can fuel the passion I bring to help others overcome pain. It is focused on supporting the right of all people to have dignity, equal rights, and a chance for happiness. It is about striving to be Christ-like in my conduct.

Serving in joy: This means approaching this work with joy, making it fun and having a sense of humor. Remaining aware and engaged in each day is required. It involves an irreverence: not taking myself or the task at hand so seriously so as to miss out on the chance to laugh, and appreciate the absurdities and ironies that arise. It is keeping my sense of fun and valuing the pleasure that is possible if I pay attention with a playful spirit. There is a positive community spirit that arises when I value joy. When I make it fun, great things happen. Humans, both children and adults, need to play. It helps us enjoy each other and the task at hand. My middle name is literally “Joy”, and I strive to live up to my mother’s aspiration in giving me that name.

Mastery in performance:  This is about excellence. I value total quality improvement – knowing that more progress is always possible. It requires a commitment to lifelong learning, and not being afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. It involves being curious and bold, and willing to work hard at what matters most. As one of my favorite novelists George Eliot said, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

********

So, how will you plan for a great ending? What ways can you begin with the end in mind? With a bit of forethought and personal inquiry, you can steer yourself in the direction that you define as important. Consider writing your own credo. It may help you construct your life with greater quality. Someday, your story will be told. It is up to you to make it a marvelous story, one with a great ending.

 

*The Bible, New International Version, John 17:33

**Covey, Stephen, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Golden Books, 1997.

6 Comments

  1. Debbie Cassettari

    Thought provoking, Lisa. Well done!

  2. Beautifully said. I had more energy at Dave’s service than I have had since starting chemo and I know it was from the love for Dave and each other. I love the personal mission statement idea. Time to ponder mine (although I may just steal yours!). Thank you, Lisa – totally diggin’ your posts!

    • Thanks Sue. Your response sure makes me want to keep writing. You make it worthwhile, and I thank you! May you be blessed with a wealth of abundant joy and healthful living.

  3. Kathy McGillivray

    A great post, Lisa. Hopefully, it inspires many to consider their credo or mission statement. I know it inspired me to take a second look at mine.

    • I would love to see your mission statement Kathy! I was just reading about Jesus’ mission statement (cool concept!) in “Jesus: A Theography” by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. It was the first “sermon” he gave when he was in the synagogue in Nazareth. He stood up opened the scroll to Isaiah 61:

      “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
      because he has anointed me
      to preach good news to the poor.
      He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
      and recovery of sight for the blind,
      to release the oppressed,
      to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

      He sat down and said “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

      Awesome.

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