What Truly Matters
When attending a funeral, we are brought to an uncomfortable but clarifying edge between life from death. The internal troubling conversation begins. We know deeply what a gift it is to be a human and extraordinarily kin to God. Our time here is short to be filled with all the earthly experiences good or bad. We need to get out of our own ways, drop the egos, and trust God and the holy plan divinely in motion.
Paul’s lament in his Epistle to the Romans resonates: “For I do not understand what I am doing; for I am not practicing what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate.” The life we all want to live, we easily stray from with constant distraction, believing there will always be tomorrow. Should we maybe regard Death more friend than foe? Who could impress the urgency to build a meaningful life now?
Very exciting was the recent discovery that a pair of young eagles chose the lake a mile from my house to build their nest and start a family. Bald eagles mate for life and spend their entire lives building their exquisite nests. Unlike other avian friends who whip together a new nest each spring, bald eagles refine and expand theirs with every passing season. A first-year eagle’s nest measures around 6 feet in circumference. After twenty years, this work of art, representing amazing creativity, resilience, and faith expands to thirteen feet wide, eight feet deep and weighs over two tons. On a recent morning jog around Radnor Lake, I witnessed the male eagle proudly soaring over the lake with a six-foot timber in his talons (eagles can carry half their weight) to buttress his architectural marvel. This magnificent bird stands two feet tall with a wingspan the length of a suburban car. Another day a “watch party” with high-powered lens gathered to film the newlyweds happily traversing back and forth over the lake clutching bright green moss, fern and feathers to improve their masterpiece of a dwelling.
The eagles of Radnor Lake cannot predict or control what tomorrow holds. Nor can we. Each year, each season brings new challenges, up and down possibilities, certain losses and certain gains. The eagle’s and our days are numbered in the Book of Life. It is up to us whether we build a life/nest for our soul and God, or one for our ego and the world’s approval. I am becoming more disillusioned by how our culture defines success and happiness. Many are celebrated for “having made it” by the world’s standards but feel themselves disillusioned, empty, and full of regrets. You and I do not want to wake up one day realizing the whole point of it all was missed. Are we wasting the sands of our precious Hourglass? There are many deathbed confessions of regret.
Jesus did not have much time on this planet. Neither did Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, or my beautiful friend Tallu Quinn. Each managed to use the little time they were given to build meaningful lives, truly sacred, with love as the purpose, and a joy that radiated to all who knew them.
One of my most challenging classes at Vanderbilt Divinity School focused on the 13th century theologian and Doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas, and his epic, but dense, Summa Theologica. Aquinas is celebrated for his philosophical and theological proofs of God’s existence. His method was to pose a question and then labor to answer it. Aquinas believed that human suffering all boiled down to love, or rather “disordered” love. Aquinas, Paul, Jesus all recognized that we humans would spend the entirety of our lives learning how and what to love. A lot of mistakes are made along the way. In Aquinas’ time and ours, love of power, love of money, love of work, love of prestige and love of pleasure sometimes supersede love of family, love of neighbor, love of creation, love of God. We suffer for it. Truth, miracles, compassion, sacrifice, forgiveness—Jesus’s thirty-three years of life was a masterclass on how to love.
How many of us are settling for “mile wide inch deep” lives? Remember the incredible eagles’ nest that is a constant evolving work of art in progress? The silver lining of the pandemic was many of us were shocked by how vast the gap between the way we were living our daily lives and the lives our souls craved. Priorities easily fall out of sacred rhythm. Watch out for a quicksand reality that leaves us stressed, too busy, and shallow versions of ourselves.
A mentor once suggested I write my own obituary. He said, “Farrell, write what you hope people will say about you at your funeral. And then allow that to be your marching orders for how to build a beautiful life now.”
Arthur Brooks is a social scientist and a popular professor at Harvard Business School. He has dedicated his life’s work to studying what makes human beings truly happy. Brooks says culture tells us to love things, use people and worship ourselves. Our souls tell us the exact opposite. Beautiful lives happen when we use things, love people and worship the Divine. Before there were ladders to climb, promotions to score, reputations to seal, and bank accounts to fill, we had a soul with a divine purpose. Ask yourself what is holy about your life? Are you a person of the world? Or does your soul direct your path? Time is precious. Are you content with the nest you are building? Try multiplying goodness in the world. Jesus didn’t come to groom saints. He came for ordinary people like you and me to help us figure out what truly matters and then help us to live more from that place.
I have work to do! Thankfully, it is never too late to live a deep and consequential life. Helpful questions to ask yourself each day: What will I do for my soul today? What will I do for the soul of another today?
Live in Hope,
***Photo of the bald eagle in Nashville taken by my friend Mary Glynn Williamson***
***The song below, “Life is a Church,” was written many years ago by my friend Marcus Hummon. I love how it captures the sanctity of our blessed ordinary lives!***