In the days following Budd’s death I had to think a lot about what I’d say at his memorial service. Fact is, Budd was a really good guy. Fact is also that we had had some difficult years. I have been a part of services where the deceased should have been bequeathed sainthood judging from the stories shared by loved ones. They apparently were always patient, loving, humble, gracious, forgiving…endlessly. Like I said, Budd was a good guy but he had the unfortunate reality of being human. Between us we had a pretty impressive list of broken places…enough to hurt a marriage for sure. He was also really funny, loved his family more than anything and worked hard to provide for us.
As I considered how to honor Budd most faithfully, I wanted to say what was most true of his good character without petitioning for his sainthood. I wanted to be both honest and honoring. I wanted to honor the real Budd…the human one. As I prayerfully pondered this big event I was struck with a picture of a clear jar filled with rocks. There were larger rocks in the bottom and many, many smaller rocks on top. With Budd’s death it was as though someone took the jar and shook it hard. The smaller rocks all sifted to the bottom so that looking into the jar I saw the large rocks. These rocks represent the things that I loved most about Budd, the traits that had caused me to fall in love with him in the first place. The smaller rocks were the irritations, hurts and failures that had accumulated over the years of our marriage. Because of unforgiveness, bitterness and brokenness I had allowed these smaller rocks to cover what was most important between us.
Budd’s memorial service was wonderful. Seriously. There was much laughter and plenty of tears. Budd was a good-hearted man with a twisted and delightful sense of humor. Our kids were able to share stories of their father that perfectly reflected his love, provision and weirdness. It was a celebration of a human life – not a saint, you understand, but a human. A good human being, father, friend and husband.
This snapshot has come back to me many times in other relationships and situations. It has impacted work relationships, friendships, extended family and more. We have the power to choose what we will focus on. I can stare at all of the small rocks in a situation and allow that to frustrate me and make me bitter, or I can do what must be done in order to see the most important things. For example, in my work situation: I love the church staff that I was privileged to work with. They are truly some of the finest people I know. Unfortunately, they are also human. And….here’s the real rub….I am often even more human than they are. I might focus on a hurt or a slight that can fester and cause dissention and it will infect my relationships and performance in life and work. I can also speak the truth to my own heart and hold them in love before God while I ask Him to guide me to the truth. The vast majority of the time people are doing the best they can with what they know. Unfortunately (or fortunately), they aren’t me so they don’t think and act just like me. Go figure. Don’t wait for death or catastrophe. Every once in a while, when things are strained….shake the jar. You may be surprised what you find there.
I have seen this same principle in families where siblings or parents and children have lost any sense of connection or relationship (I do not include abuse and such in this example as there are extenuating circumstances that must be dealt with in extremely dysfunctional family systems). A friend’s mother was in the hospital on hospice care. They had been estranged for a while and he was hesitant to visit his mom. For years there had been harshness toward him from his mother. He didn’t want to put himself in a situation that could wound him any further. As I spoke with him, I encouraged him to visit his mom if only to say good-bye. I said I would go with him if it would help. I would do whatever it took to give him the courage to end this relationship well. He kept putting it off, said he’d think about it. One day at work he told me his mom had passed away. Nothing had been resolved. Weeks later, months later and even years later he would tell me again that he wished he had gone to the hospital even just one time.
My concern in that situation was not for the mom (though perhaps that could have been a great blessing) but for my friend. My desire is that he would have shaken the jar enough to remember any positive attributes or situations involving his mom and to cover her memories in that grace. It is not the denial of abuses or hurts, but the forgiving and releasing of them in these situations. We are not wired to carry the weight of such unredeemed judgment. We were never meant to. Please understand, this is not about ignoring hurt or abuse but it is also not allowing that hurt and abuse to control our life for all of our days.
The hopeful note in all of this is that as I look back over the last half of our marriage I could see where Budd and I had worked hard to retrieve the big rocks. Whether through counseling, intentional connection or forgiveness – usually all three – we had embarked on a recovery mission and it had paid dividends. I didn’t need to grieve pure failure on our part, but rather accept what was true of two broken people trying to build a family and a home. In the seasons where we gave the little rocks center stage we fought a lot and were quite isolated from one another. As we gained a correct perspective we began to see that we were good together, we had two fabulous kids who were good adults and good people.
Every once in a while, when things are strained….shake the jar. You may be surprised what you find there.
John 15:12-13 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
1 Peter 4:8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.
1 John 3:16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
Luke 6:30-32 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you. 32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!