Late last year, I volunteered to help serve food after a funeral for someone who had attended our congregation but whom I had not personally met. I arrived early to help make sure all was in order, and then sat down to listen to the service.
The woman who had passed had been sick and in a great deal of pain when she died, and all of her family members seemed to agree that, while they missed her, they were grateful she could finally rest from her physical difficulties. The family members who spoke shared fun and tender stories about the departed, and a spirit of reverent peace filled the chapel as they shared their feelings that they would be reunited with her again some day.
Then something happened I had never experienced before. A man, who I hadn’t been able to see well from where I was seated until he stood, made his way to the pulpit. He stood straight and tall, and almost floated along his way. His head was shaved bald, and he pulled the paper from which he read his remarks out of what I recognized from my time in Asia as the robe of a Buddhist monk.
My heart beat faster as the clanging and chanting of rituals at Buddhist monasteries I had passed on my bike filled my ears, and I tried to calm myself, embarrassed that I felt such great alarm before the man, who had every right to be and speak there, had even begun to speak.
As he read his thoughts, my heart began to change. He told us that his older sister had a special way about her that allowed her to love him where he was and still treat him as if he were better. This had always inspired him to live up to that high, though unspoken praise. He told us that he was concerned that his devoutly-Christian family might shun him when he ultimately decided to devote the rest of his life to the walk of a Buddhist monk, but that they all had expressed their love and support for him personally when they learned of his decision. This particular sister went a few steps further than that, asking him questions and even buying books about Buddhism to help her understand the path he had chosen and its significance to him. She never judged him or withheld her love, and he missed her very much. With that, he returned his paper to the inside of his robe and quietly resumed his seat by his family.
All of this from a man I had judged without ever having seen him before.
There is something about funerals that makes you rethink your life.
I am also the older sister in my family, and I also have a sibling who has made choices that disappointed me. If it was me in that coffin, would my sister stand and say that I always loved her where she was, and saw the very best in her? Would she say that I didn’t judge her for the decisions she made that I didn’t agree with? She would say many sweet and wonderful things about me, for she is a sweet and wonderful person, but I was sure that none of those items would be on the list.
I resolved to do better, and I wrote my resolution in my journal. As I prayed for God’s help, I felt that He was pleased with my goal and would help me achieve it. These feelings filled my heart to overflowing, and I found it difficult to sing the closing hymn.
After the service, I busied myself with serving food to the family. Grateful that this man, this brother, stayed to eat with the family, I took the opportunity to thank him for his comments. He smiled genuinely and said he was pleased to hear that he had been of help.
Since that day I have worked hard and have made significant progress, but the journey from where we are to greatness is never short one, so I still have a long way to go. Still I am sure that, with God as my helper, I will get there someday.
Here’s to my sister, and to all of us who have people in our lives who need loving and forgiving more than judgment and criticism. May we all do better every day, focusing more on making ourselves more good and loving, and less on trying to fix the brokenness in others.
Love is the best medicine anyway.