Matthew 6:19-21; Mark 12:38-40
The Rev. Tom Herbek
November 8, 2015
It seems that everything I have been reading recently has a similar theme: the idea that, as Jesus said, where your treasure is – what you find most valuable in life – determines where your heart finds itself at the end of life. Where we place the most value, what we give our best efforts to, how we spend our life, determines whether our hearts are satisfied at the end of life.
A new author (for me) described it in a creative and thought – provoking way. Journalist David Brooks writes, in his new book The Road to Character:
Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being–whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed.
Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the resume virtues, but I confess that for long stretches of my life I’ve spent more time thinking about the latter than the former. Our education system is certainly oriented around the resume virtues more than the eulogy ones. Public conversation is, too -the self-help tips in magazines, the nonfiction bestsellers. Most of us have clearer strategies for how to achieve career success than we do for how to develop a profound character.
One book that has helped me think about these two sets of virtues is Lonely Man of Faith, which was written by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in 1965. Soloveitchik noted that there are two accounts of creation in Genesis and argued that these represent the two opposing sides of our nature, which he called Adam I and Adam II.
Adam I is the career-oriented, ambitious side of our nature. Adam I is the external, resume Adam. Adam I wants to build, create, produce, and discover things. He wants to have high status and win victories.
Adam II is the internal Adam. Adam II wants to embody certain moral qualities. Adam II wants to have a serene inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong -not only to do good, but to be good.
While Adam I wants to conquer the world, Adam II wants to obey a calling to serve the world. While Adam I is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam II sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam I asks how things work, Adam II asks why things exist, and what ultimately we are here for.
I like what he says about the Adam II’s. These are the people who have created eulogies, rather than the people who have created a resume. They might have an impressive resume also, but they have not put their efforts, not their best efforts anyway, into building a resume. They have put their best efforts into living life, into becoming who they have been created to be.
In 2001, Larry Gelhart gave the eulogy for Jack Lemmon:
His range as an actor was, of course, stunning. From his early, eager Ensign Pulver of the navy to the more mature Morrie of so many Tuesdays, perfectly portraying the imperfect man.
Humble or harassed
Desperate or defiant.
In high heels or in loafers.
But the truth be told, in his personal life Jack had almost no range at all. Throughout the whole of it, year after year, he was simply, unfailingly terrific displaying merely various shades of marvelous.
Being predictably thoughtful
Now that is a eulogy.
We all have choices in life, and it is these choices about what is most important in our life that create our eulogy, that determine where our hearts end up. Joan Chittister, in the book we discussed at our retreat yesterday, Between the Darkness and the Daylight, wrote the following:
The fact is that our lives are truly works in progress, all of them individually and at different times. We go from this to that, from here to there with only one constant: We are constantly becoming, no less at seventy-five years old than when we were four.
Choice is the metaphor of life. We wind our way from one choice to another all the rest of our years. We choose and change and then choose again. We select this education not that education, this job not that job, this partner not that partner. We build up a scaffolding of choices, each of which, sooner or later, one way or another, ends. And then we must begin to choose all over again. One choice is a mistake, the next an achievement until, one alternative at a time, we write on our hearts the map of life we have routed for ourselves.
But not always.
The chain of choices we make for ourselves is not the whole of our life’s story. They are not, often, even our most important ones.
The truth is that life’s just not that neat. We make decisions every step of the way, yes, and we change many of them as time goes by. But in many instances, as many things just happen as much as they are chosen. Or many of the selections we make simply evaporate even as we grasp them. What we wanted we do not get. Not because we changed them; because life changed them.
Every choice we make for ourselves in life leaves unnoticed a number of choices we could have made. One choice cancels another. The choice we did not make represents a number of capabilities we have that this particular choice will not cultivate, a number of opportunities available that call the rest of me out of my protective shell in order to enable me to become the more of me.
Life lies in adapting to choices that are not mine. It requires that I understand that life is not final until it ends.
It is the choice I make when unlimited choice is not an option that determines both what I do and what I am. It identifies not only what is in me but what I intend to become. Everything I choose is not the best choice I could have made, perhaps, but the way I deal with it is the choice that will define me in the end.
Joan Chittister is right: In the end, it is the choices we make that define, that determine, what our friends and family will say in our eulogy. One of the people that I was fortunate enough to know, who built a eulogy to remember (as well as an impressive resume, which he had no interest in having us remember), was Tim Jaenecke. Tim lived with ALS, and he showed his four children what is most important in life, and what are the important choices we can make.
A member of our church family, Tim lived life in his unique and special way. I said the following at the celebration of Tim’s life in this sanctuary:
Robert Frost once wrote: “Always fall in with what you’re asked to accept. Take what is given, and make it over your way.” And this is certainly how Tim Jaenecke lived life. People have said to me, “Isn’t it a shame that Tim Jaenecke lived such a short life” and I have muttered something like, “Uh-huh”, but what I really want to say is, “No, that’s not true.” You see, Tim Jaenecke lived well over a century of life on this earth; he just happened to do it in 44 years. Tim had an unbelievable ability to accept reality as it was, and not complain, and then make it over in his own way. This did not start just after he was diagnosed with ALS.
Tim dealt with reality all of his life. Anything else was kidding yourself, according to Tim. And Tim lived his whole life one way and said it often: Life is what it is. He did not waste any of his life wishing it could be otherwise.
It did not surprise anyone who knew Tim that he wrote something for his service. I’d like to share Tim’s words with you now:
Please bear with me. I know that this is a bit unusual: the newly dead tend not to speak at their own funerals. But as my family knows, I’ve never been too keen on following a lot of broadly applied rules or conventions. Not in a malicious or deviant way mind you, more along the lines of, say, “modifying” an obviously unreasonable speed limit, or correctly interpreting a sign that says: “Access Prohibited Beyond This Point”, as really meaning: there must be something really cool over there and we’ve at least got to check it out.
Anyway, I just wanted to share some thoughts and perspective with you today. Given the nature of this disease, we always knew this day would come, so there’s been time to prepare and reflect.
When I was first diagnosed, we didn’t dare to hope that it would be 13+ years before today, this service, came. That time has been a wonderful gift, and we’ve done our best to make the most of it.
Besides, I don’t want this to be a heavy or depressing event, and I figure now that you’re here, a captive audience of sorts, you’re kind of obligated to hear me out. I am the guest of honor.
Unfortunately, I don’t have anything deep or profound to say, mainly I just wanted you to know that I had a wonderful life and anyway, remember the fun, goofy times- not in a sad way. If you’re not laughing, then you’ve got to stop. That’s the deal.
All those who feel remorse, regret over something you did or didn’t do with me or for me, cut it out. I have a list just as long. We all do. I get it. I understand and never looked at things that way. That’s just part of life. At most, resolve to make your list a little shorter. Call someone or do more with those you have these regrets about.
So let us do what Tim Jaenecke did: Let us live every moment of every day that we have, with as few regrets as possible.
May our hearts be satisfied at the end of life. May we build up treasures that enable our hearts to be satisfied. May we live every moment of life, with as few regrets as possible. May we make choices in life that are true to our hearts, choices that create treasures in heaven.
May we live a life that makes it difficult for those who give our eulogy, difficult because there is so much of value that we have contributed to life and to love, that they have to make choices about what to say, and they have to leave so much out because there is just not enough time to say everything they would like to say.
Let us live a life that creates treasures in heaven!