Do you ever suspect you are wasting your time? Like you are spending your life doing things that won’t really matter in the end? I have. In the midst of striving for money, power, and prestige, God gave me a wake-up call I will never forget: I heard a eulogy for my own life.
I was thirty-two years old. It was supposed to be my Uncle Jerry’s funeral, but when we pulled up to the funeral home, the sign said Don Gerred. What? That was my name. It took me a moment to process, but then I remembered: Jerry was my uncle’s nickname. His real name was Donald Lawrence Gerred. The misunderstanding was cleared up, but it was just too strange to hear a funeral service where everything everyone said was about “Don Gerred.” I couldn’t help but wonder what my own funeral would be like.
The service was short. A lady we had never met delivered the eulogy. She was Jerry’s work supervisor. Jerry had only been working with her for about six months.
She talked about the only things she knew. She said Don was a new employee. She appreciated how Don was honest and worked hard. She said he showed his love for his family by putting their pictures at his workstation. She barely knew Jerry, which was obvious because she called him Don. The supervisor struggled to be dignified and say “the right things” in an impossible situation. Her last remark hit home for me. She said, “Don really loved his cat.”
A reasonable outside observer would find little evidence Jerry’s life had been a blessing to anyone. What was his legacy? Did he even have one? It left me wondering how this terrible anti-climax happened. Was it caused by the relentless way life beat Jerry down?
To understand my unrest, you have to know a little about my Uncle Jerry. My first childhood memory of him was a good one—the day he took me on my first boat ride. It was sunny, and the wind blew his blonde hair into his face. Uncle Jerry grinned, sharing the fun of it all with me. I remember him as being friendly, highly intelligent, and very intense. But sometime later, he lost his two-year-old son, my cousin, in a car accident. Uncle Jerry was driving. His marriage and his relationship with his two surviving sons were destroyed. I saw Uncle Jerry on and off over the years, and in about every memory I have him, he’s holding a beer. He later died of a heart attack, which is what brought me to his funeral. The funeral with my name on it.
Looking back to that day on the boat, I never imagined Uncle Jerry’s time on earth would end on the sad, haunting, and hollow note that was his funeral. At that moment, I made a resolution: The next funeral for Don Gerred better not look anything like this one.
We said our goodbyes, traveled home, and plunged back into our daily grind. For me, that was life as a trial lawyer. A life I wasn’t enjoying much. I was chasing money, fighting on behalf of people whose motives I questioned, and whom often I personally disliked. In truth, I was realizing I also disliked myself.
I told myself that if I succeeded as a lawyer and made lots of money and had a lot of wins, then the time, energy, stress, sacrifice, meaninglessness, and loneliness would all be “worth it.” But inside, I knew this premise was false. I felt like I was trapped. But I didn’t know what to do about it.
God did, though. He began to put moments like Uncle Jerry’s funeral in my life. Later, I met a friend who seemed certain that God was not nearly as interested in my performance as I was. I began to understand that God isn’t interested in my money or success; he’s interested in the person I become. God delights in giving an unlimited number of do-overs for anyone who will try again. This simple yet profound idea is a gift from God called “grace.”
As I began to embrace God’s grace, my career and even my personality began to migrate. God grew my heart toward his mysterious yet amazing love and away from my ego dreams. Over the last 20 years, that pursuit of understanding God’s love and unique purpose for my life has led me to people, places, relationships I could have never imagined, like being part of a team that rescued around a hundred young girls trafficked into Indian brothels. I hope it has also carried me to a better legacy. The road has not always been straight, but God has never stopped trying to move me toward the lasting and impactful legacy he always wanted for my life, instead of the chaotic rubble of a life lived only by accident.
I believe God wants to do this for you, too. Here’s a simple exercise you can do right now that can send you down the same road:
Imagine you are going to a funeral home. Imagine the music, the flowers, the quiet people milling around. Your family and your friends are there. There is a deep sadness but also a deep joy for the life being celebrated, because the person in the casket is you.
What would your spouse, your kids, your extended family, your work colleagues, and your friends say about you? Imagine what you would want them to say because today is the day you can begin working on exactly that.
I did this exercise around 15 years ago. It did nothing to immediately solve my problems, but it gave me some inklings about things hidden deep in my own heart, and that’s when my heart began to shift. Because of God’s grace, and his unlimited do-overs, my life, and my legacy are not turning out as I feared they might.
Choose Wisely How You Spend Your Time
Think, for a moment, about the process of “spending” time. For example, you just “spent” about 10 minutes reading this article. You will never get those 10 minutes back, ever. All of us will spend down all of our time to the very last second. We don’t get to choose whether or not we spend our time. We only get to choose what we will spend it on.
As a human, I’m prone to forgetting this fundamentally obvious point. I suspect all humans do, but with one exception: Jesus. That is why he urged: “…Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25)
I doubt anyone intentionally wastes their life. My Uncle Jerry certainly didn’t. It just happens. Hurry, worry, fear, anger, pleasure, and pride build up to a blinding intoxication that numbs our sense of time and reality. Some people get to the end of life with only enough time left to ask, What was it all for? Or worse, the end comes, and some never asked the question at all.
So we find ourselves here at the end of this article. Will the time you spent be worth it? I think it will be, but only if you apply what you’ve learned. I challenge you to start by writing your own eulogy. It might be the best time you ever spend.