To Love or be Liked?

Here is the blog that provoked my thoughts on this subject:
To Love or be Liked?

The question asked was: "What will your funeral look like?" The question was intended to reveal values, "with the end in mind." I love this type of introspection. And I enjoy sharing my deepest thoughts, as well as having the privilege of reading and considering the reflections of others. If this provokes a response in you, please leave a comment. Lately, the majority of my blog comments wind up on my Facebook page (under the link). Which is perfectly fine with me. However, not everyone who reads my blog is a Facebook friend.

In case you are not going to the link to read Miller's blog, he explains that he and his friends were all in agreement that they wanted people at their funerals "to know we loved them, to say we were kind and gracious and our lives were about helping them." But he found something interesting, that they wanted different numbers of people to be at their funerals. And that opened up the "why" question, which led to the "to love or be liked?" question. At the end of his post, he asked...

"What about you, a big funeral or a small funeral? And why?"

Miller confessed that although some people are wired to love a greater number of people, he is only capable of loving and giving his life to about 20-25 (including family members) over the long haul. He explained that although there is nothing wrong with wanting to be liked by a larger community, "...what I began to wonder was whether or not my desire to be liked was compromising the time and effort involved in loving and being loved. It was a terrific question that I believe will inspire some change in how I live my life."

I've heard a lot of people say that we really only have space in our lives for a handful of close friends. My husband feels this way. I guess I am one of those people who are wired differently. I refuse to put that limitation on myself. I want to BE a friend -- a true friend -- to as many people as I possibly can. I know I am capable of being that kind of friend to more than a handful. And I could not limit myself to 25 if I included family members. Relationships are a high priority in my life. I value relationships. That doesn't mean I can become a close friend, giving my life to every acquaintance I make. But I care deeply about people -- even those I don't feel as drawn to by similar personality traits or common interests. There is always this desire in my heart -- deeply felt -- to connect with and enhance the lives of those around me. I don't always succeed in this, of course. There can be all kinds of obstacles. But I am incapable of discarding someone from my life -- even when they hurt me deeply. If someone who has wounded me (even repeatedly) demonstrates a sincere interest in reconciliation and a restored relationship/friendship, I'm in. That's all there is to it. I do not live a guarded life. I even open myself up fully to more pain if there is any chance to move in a positive direction toward another person.

I cannot put a number on how many people I am capable of loving well or giving part of my life to. I know that I can only give myself fully to God, to John, and my kids/grandkids. (I do recognize that limitation.) But I will try my best to give something of myself to every person who needs me. I might fail. But I will try.

So, with regard to the end of my life and how many people will be at my funeral, I don't really have a preference of how big or how small. I feel confident that the majority of people who show up at my funeral will be there because they knew I loved them, because they also loved me, and because I touched their life in some positive way. I believe most of the people who attend my funeral will miss me when I'm gone. And I hope they will have good memories to fill that empty spot.

In Laura Bush's memoir, Spoken From the Heart, she said that she collects memories, not things. I so identified with her on that. I think that's why I enjoy taking so many pictures of special AND ordinary moments in my life. Each one preserves a memory. And I am all about making memories for myself and others. I have a trip planned this summer with my teenage nieces. I absolutely cannot wait for the memories we will make. When I told John how important it is to me to make these special memories with them, I mentioned "after I'm gone..." I told him that I want my nephews and nieces to carry the memory of being special to their Aunt Shari with them for the rest of their lives, even long after I'm no longer here to make them feel special. He said, "You want a legacy." And I said, "No. It's not about me having a legacy. It's about them having memories of our times together, knowing how much I loved them. It's really not about how much they love me (although I know they do)."

I am not trying to create a need in them for me (which would be all about me). I'm not trying to earn a pedastal place in their lives. I just want them to always remember how much I loved them. And I want us to make memories of loving times together so that sense of having been loved and cherished lingers after I'm gone. If that's a legacy, then okay ... I want that. But I don't define legacy as being about someone else. I think of a legacy as something someone wants for themselves. And that's not what I'm seeking.

I've thought about my funeral on many occasions. I don't visualize it as a room full of overwhelming grief and people crying their eyes out. Here is what I picture in my mind. First, I visualize "In Christ Alone" being sung loudly, boldly and confidently by someone who understands what that means. I want "Hallelujah! What a Savior!" and "Blessed Be Your Name!" (Newsboys version) to be songs sung at my funeral. I want the gospel to be "front and center."

When it comes to the "me" part, I picture people sharing memories -- lots of funny ones. I picture more smiles and laughs than tears. I think the people who are in my life today will be rejoicing over my deliverance and my secure eternity. I hope (and believe) they will be saying that I made them feel very loved and valued -- even when we didn't see eye to eye; they knew how much I cared about them. I hope by the time I die, my friends will be able to say that I listened as well as I talked. (It's a goal.) That mental picture brings joy filled tears to my eyes.

At one time in my life, I didn't feel like I was a very sweet person and I so wanted to be. I can honestly say that I worked at becoming sweet and asked God to help me. At some point, I must have made some big strides (or it was a miracle of the Holy Spirit) because a lot of my friends today tell me I'm sweet. What they don't realize is that every time someone uses that word to describe me, it means more to me than it probably does to the average person. I recognize it as an evidence of transformation in my life. And I'm thankful. There was a time in my life when I didn't imagine anyone ever describing me that way.

I am not really an accomplished person. In most areas of my life, I am far more laid back than driven. I have never been ambitious. I never aspired to having a career or wealth. But I have always wanted to excel in my relationships with others. So much so that certain people -- people with whom I have never been able to achieve the relationship I longed for -- became idols in my life. I had to learn (by hearing the gospel) that I could elevate something or even a relationship with someone too highly. When we make a good thing an ultimate thing in our lives, that is idolatry. Something that seems good (even wanting a relationship) becomes a bad thing when you perceive it or them as something you cannot live without (or cannot be content without). Learning that helped me to identify idols in my life.

I don't do that anymore. I give the people I love -- and the people I feel I may have lost -- to God. I love them to the best of my ability (and in some cases, to the degree they will let me into their lives). And I have stopped investing a lot of emotional energy in worrying about the success or failure of my efforts. Those relationships are in God's hands now. I'm not trying to be liked or loved anymore. For one thing, my reservoir is so full these days. I am no longer needing everyone to like, love and approve of me. I owe that to God first and foremost. Believing the gospel has been so transformational. But I am also overflowing with love and acceptance because of the people God has added to my life in the last eight years. I believe the biggest way He gets His love to us is through us. That's how I want to be remembered in the end. I want people to be able to say that I loved well and I loved many. Nothing wrong with admitting you only have the capacity for 20-25. But I want God to increase my capacity in the areas where I feel my human limitations.

There is one other strong emotion I have when I think about my funeral. I think about who I don't really want to be there. I'm not sure this is a good thing. But I'm going to confess it anyway. The thought of someone showing up at my funeral who has not "shown up" in my life sickens me. I do not want anyone to be at my funeral for appearances or to make a show of love for me after death that they were unwilling to make known while I was still alive. I'm sure that emotion comes from a still-wounded place in my heart. But I don't want anyone who has shown primarily contempt and disdain for me to come to my funeral and shake the hand of my husband or son and tell THEM how much they loved me. I don't like pretending. I don't like facades. I detest doing anything strictly for "appearances." And I don't want that at my funeral. The thought of it upsets me. But then again, I'm not even going to be there. So why should I care? I hope to overcome these strong feelings one day.

What I think all of this says about my personal growth is that I'm making progress and yet there is still progress to be made. In a lot of areas, my life is certainly not all about me. But in that last paragraph, I concede those feelings ARE all about me. Those emotions come from that wounded, rejected Shari that I am striving to shed completely. I am a work in process. I have made changes in the way I live my life based on this kind of reflection (even before Donald Miller posed the questions). The biggest change in me is that I no longer chase and pursue people anymore who don't give me any indication they even want a relationship with me. And it's something I do consciously and with focused intent (because my nature is to never stop pursuing, even when it becomes unhealthy). God has really helped me in that area. And I'm thankful. I recognize that I am taking away from my healthy relationships when I spend too much emotional energy on the ones I can't have.

So, maybe the growth question for me would sound more like "Does it really matter who comes to my funeral and why they are there?" I have to remember that perhaps even the person who comes for the wrong reason will have their heart touched in some way, enabling them to hear and receive the gospel. And I can say in truthfulness, that is really more important than me.

I am blessed to enjoy being loved and liked in abundance these days. It does feel good. But I'm not chasing either anymore. And that feels even better.


SANDRA said…
I say celebrate life not death!! And with everything, including dieing, so incredibly costly, I would like my family to donate any organs that might help someone else, and the rest of my body to science! Let me tell you, they can really learn some things from this old gal!!! Short but sweet, I know I have made an impact on a lot of people. Some good and some bad! I welcome both types to come on out and celebrate, but, don't bring any flowers! Eat, drink and be merry!! And celebrate!!
Shari said…
Sandie, I hope I have not given anyone the impression (including you) that I am advocating a celebration of death. This post nor the questions that inspired my thoughts had anything to do with celebrating death! But I know your feelings on the subject of funerals, so I "get" why you responded this way. Love you!
Kathy said…
Hey Sandra, quite giving away people's organs! I'm going to need them or we'll all be celebrating my death, someday!

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