What will they say at your funeral?
Two guys were at a rich friend’s funeral.
The first guy said, “Man, he was loaded. How much do you think he left behind?”
The second guy thought for a second, then answered, “I think he left it all behind.”
I have a confession to make: I love funerals. Well, not the tragic ones where the person died too young. And definitely not the Buddhist or Catholic ones. Those can be a bit depressing. But I haven't been to many of those.
The funerals I love are the ones for faithful followers of God. The ones who lived and loved well. If you ever get depressed or dissatisfied with your wilderness wanderings through life, I suggest that you go to a funeral of a godly person who lived to honor God and serve people. That will inspire you to live up to your potential more than walking on hot coals with Tony Robbins.
Why are these funerals so inspiring? One word. Legacy.
Your legacy is everything you leave behind after you're gone from this earth. I’ve written a lot about legacy in my book, The LIFE Path. The “L” in the acronym “LIFE” actually stands for “Legacy.”
One of the ways that we can build a good legacy is to think about your death. Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
So let me help you plan your funeral. There are at least three universal parts to every Christian funeral. There's the obituary, where someone reads the deceased's biographical history and resume of accomplishments.
It goes something like this: “Here lies Joe. Here's where he was born. Here’s where he grew up. Here’s where he went to college and where he worked. Here’s a little about his family. Here’s who will miss Joe.”
Then there are the “Words of Comfort.” This is where the pastor shares a (hopefully) short sermon to comfort the family and encourage personal reflection. As a pastor, I must admit, funeral sermons can be rather difficult, especially if you didn't know the person who died.
My favorite part is the eulogy. “Eulogy” comes from two Greek words meaning “good” and “words.” A eulogy is where your friends and family stand up and share how you impacted their lives and the difference you’ve made in the world.
I can't think of a better measure of a person’s legacy than their eulogy. What people will say about your at your funeral may be the most important earthly measure of the value of your life.
WRITING MY EULOGY
Thinking about your eulogy is also one of the most effective personal development tools. I’ve helped a lot of people discover what they really value by showing them how to write their eulogy. Let me help you do the same. It’s a simple, but powerful, tool. But be warned, the process can be a bit emotional. I still shed a few tears everytime I rewrite and edit my eulogy.
I'm going to include the eulogy I've written for myself at the end of this article. I'm in the process of revising it, but I'll include it below as an example.
I should note, that the vast majority of these statements are not true yet. Only about 7% of my eulogy reflects what people would say at my funeral if I died today. But this eulogy serves as a tool to motivate, inspire, and direct me to become the person I aspire to become. It’s my version of Stephen Covey’s “Personal Life Mission Statement.” It’s my North Star.
WRITING YOUR EULOGY
Here’s how you do. Just follow these few simple steps and answer the questions.
Step 1 - Who will be at your funeral?
Make a list of all the important people in your life. Put them together groups, such as a spouse, kids, extended family, friends, church community, co-workers and business associates, people you play tennis with, etc.
Imagine that you lived to 100 years before you died. And all the people that you love is still alive. Who will be attending your funeral?
Perhaps you’re not married or don’t have children yet. Or you don’t know who or where you'll be working. That’s okay. Just imagine who will be in attendance at your funeral.
For example, I don’t have son-in-laws or grandkids yet. But I imagine I will one day. So I include them on my list.
Step 2 - Which relationships do you want to focus on right now?
Rank each group in order of priority. You can rank them in order of importance, or order in which they need the most attention and effort. Once you have an organized list of your relationships, move on to the next step.
Step 3 - How do you want to be remembered?
Starting with the lowest rank, write out how you want the people in each group to remember you.
Why start with the least important relationship? Starting with the relationships of lesser importance takes a bit the pressure off as you're getting started. If you're new to this, the process can be a bit awkward. It helps to build up some momentum before you hit the more vital relationships of children and spouse.
Here’s the writing prompt I want you to use. For each relationship group complete this sentence:
“I want ________ to remember that I _________________.”
Use that writing prompt to help you collect your thoughts. And just write yourself empty. To do this part well, you will fill many pages. So give yourself time.
This is the hardest and most emotional part of the process. I shed tears every single time I get to this part of the process.
Step 4 - Write out your eulogy.
My advice is to put this assignment away for at least a day. Let it marinate.
Then after a day or two, come back and read what you have written. Take these pages and use it to compile a written eulogy.
When you write your eulogy, make sure you are using the first person past tense. Write is as you would want it to read at your funeral.
Of course, this will feel weird. You’ll probably have to write several drafts. But don't stop until you’ve completed the process.
Thien was a person whose life made an impact on the lives of all who knew him and to many thousands of others who were touched by his ministry. Thien was a pastor, author, ministry leader, husband, father, friend, uncle, and grandfather.
He lived his life with the clear goal of “changing his world for Christ.” He was committed to that goal and lived his life with intentionality in pursuit of that goal. In seeking to accomplish his life mission, Thien lived by a clear life philosophy that was made up of four commitments:
1) Take it personally. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart as unto the Lord.
2) Make it better. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly the first time. But make sure you commit to improving.
3) Be intentional. You don’t reach your goals by accident. You need to be intentional.
4) Ask for help. You can’t do it by yourself. Be humble enough to ask for help.
Thien was a devoted follower of Jesus, having been changed by Jesus as a teenager. This was demonstrated by how he served Jesus with passion, joy, and gratitude. He spent over 50 years in ministry, having personally planted and pastored three local churches.
He was used by God to help catalyze a church planting movement among Vietnamese Americans and among other people groups. Thien was a prolific author, having written over 50 books, Bible Studies, and Leadership Curriculum. He trained, mentored, and coached pastors to be more effective in ministry. Through his speaking, teaching, writing, and the resources that he created, he has touched the lives of tens of thousands.
But his greatest love in ministry was Citylights Church, which he founded and pastored until his death. He was humbled and amazed and full of gratitude that God would use him to impact so many lives. The people of Citylights always knew that they had a pastor that loved God, the Scriptures, and loved them with all his heart. Half of the membership of Citylights came to faith under his ministry.
Thien is most proud of the over 20 pastors and church planters that he trained, mentored and sent out. Thien helped them start over 20 daughter churches and 50 granddaughter churches. Through the ministry of Citylights Church, he has made a huge impact in the community through their church planting center, community center, thrift store, and other community-focused non-profit organizations.
But Thien’s greatest legacy isn’t the books, ministries, churches, or organizations that he started. It is his family. He leaves behind his lifelong love, Kerry, his bride of over 60 years. She remembers that he loved, served, cherished, cared for, believed in, and nurtured her throughout their marriage. He worked hard to be an understanding, caring, and compassionate husband. She felt loved and special. She remembers that he was always intentional in making her a priority. She loved that he led them to build a Christ-centered family with children who all love and serve Jesus.
Thien’s three children, Stephen, Emily, and Elizabeth remember that their father was always present throughout their lives. He adored each child and somehow made them each feel that they were his favorite, each uniquely loved by him. They will always remember his humor, cooking, daddy dates, vacations, and how he loved and cared for their mom. He is their model and inspiration for their faith in Jesus. He was not a perfect person or father. He had his flaws and failures, but he was always ready to admit his faults and ask for forgiveness. They will remember his passion, generosity, commitment, and presence in their lives. He will be missed.