August 25, 2023 • Article, Third Third, Third Third Journal
I recently received a request from a dear friend to officiate at his memorial service. I was honored to be asked and will gladly do the service, assuming that my very active 82-year-old friend doesn’t outlive me. In addition to doing all the things pastors usually do in such services, I’ll be pleased to share with those gathered just how much this amazing man has meant to me and so many others. He’s lived a long life of exceptional service and kindness.
My friend’s invitation reminded me that I need to wrap up the short series I’ve been writing on “How Will I Be Remembered After I’m Gone?” In the previous articles of this series, I’ve discussed the first two “buckets” in my “being remembered bucket list.”
Bucket 1: Being remembered for my work
Bucket 2: Being remembered for my love
In this article, I’ll explore the final bucket with you.
Bucket 3: Being Remembered as Someone Who Lived with Significance
Twenty years ago, I could have identified my first two “How will I be remembered?” buckets. The importance of work and love was clear to me, much as they are today. Recently, however, I’ve added a third bucket to my collection: Being remembered as someone who lived with significance, someone who devoted his life to what matters most.
Now, you might wonder why I’ve added Bucket #3, given the obvious significance of Buckets 1 and 2. If I work and live well, do I really need this third significance bucket? In my case, I’d say, “Yes, I do.” Why? Because I have an annoying tendency to get sidetracked by little things and to care too much about things that don’t really matter. I can worry more than I wish I did about my reputation, my influence, and my security. I can get all worked up over things that aren’t worthy of so much attention or energy.
I want to be remembered truly as someone who lived with significance because I did in fact live with significance. The point isn’t to impress people with my apparent commitment to significance. Rather, it’s to actually live each day for the things that matter most in life
The significance for which I yearn most of all is revealed in Scripture. Jesus, for example, urges us to “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33, NRSV). If you want to be fully alive, Jesus says, here’s where you should put your primary attention and effort: God’s kingdom, God’s righteousness, God’s authority, God’s justice, God’s shalom. God’s reign—over this world and my life—is the priority that should define my life and its purpose. When I live for God’s kingdom, I am investing in what matters both greatly and eternally. The same is true for you, of course.
Living for God’s kingdom is not something reserved for those of us with “Reverend” before our names. And it isn’t something that usually gets much attention. The vast majority of us will never do “big things for God,” and that’s just fine. When you seek to honor and obey God in every part of your life, even in the little stuff, then you are seeking first the kingdom of God in ways that are right for you. For most of us, this way of living happens out of the limelight. But God knows and is pleased.
My growing desire to live with significance reflects, I’m quite sure, the fact that I’m getting older. At 66 years of age, I’m more aware than ever that my days on this earth are numbered. This realization motivates me to make the most of the time God has granted to me (see Ephesians 5:15-16). Or, to put it negatively, I don’t want to get to the end of my life and think, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t spent so much time fretting about all those things that really didn’t matter.” (Honestly, I probably will think that, given my history. But I’m working hard on focusing more of my attention on things that really do matter, like offering my work to God each day, loving my wife, or praying for folks in need.)
Remembering Poppy and His Three Buckets
When it comes to my picture of what a full-three-buckets life might look like, I think of my grandfather, Poppy. Most of the time he went by Don, though I called him Poppy, a word I made up when I wasn’t old enough to say “grandpa.” My mother’s father had a giant influence on my life. Because my family lived just up the street from Poppy, I spent thousands of hours with him during the first 35 years of my life.
What do I remember about Poppy? My memories neatly fall into my three buckets: work, love, and significance.
For his full-time work, Poppy was a civil engineer. He designed and oversaw the construction of large buildings, including some iconic buildings in Southern California. I loved hearing Poppy talk about his projects. I learned how much he valued serving people well by building well-engineered, beautiful, functional, safe, and cost-efficient buildings.
I also saw another side of Poppy’s business activity. He owned a small apartment house in our hometown, one filled with older, single women as tenants. They were on fixed incomes so had limited resources for rent. Poppy knew this and was committed to charging what they could afford. When a large corporation once offered a sizable sum for his apartment, he told me he wouldn’t sell because the new owners would raise the rents so that his tenants couldn’t afford to stay.
But keeping rents low was only part of how Poppy served the women “entrusted to his care,” as my colleague Scott Cormode would say. I can’t tell you how many times I accompanied Poppy on one of his trips to the apartment house, always in response to some problem or request from one of his tenants: “My sink is stopped up.” “My kitchen light burned out.” “I don’t know how to connect my TV to the antenna.” And so forth and so on. For Poppy, this work wasn’t just a job. It wasn’t just a way to make money. It was also a context for caring. Through his work as a landlord, Poppy loved his tenants with a Christ-like love.
What I observed as Poppy’s tagalong to the apartment house is consistent with what I experienced being with him in other settings. Poppy valued work, but also relationships, including the one he and I shared together. He was my grandfather, to be sure, but also my coach, counselor, teacher, encourager, and best friend. I watched as Poppy regularly demonstrated his love for and commitment to others, including his wife, his children, and grandchildren, his tenants and colleagues, his church family, and non-profit partners. There’s no doubt that Poppy’s work and love buckets are filled with ample treasure.
When it came to significance, Poppy did care about what mattered most. He was a Christian who sought the kingdom of God in every part of life. But, like me, he could get bothered by things that he might better have ignored. Yet they did not keep him from caring most of all about what matters most of all. Though Poppy might have been sitting at his breakfast room table fretting about something in the morning paper that had irritated him, if I stopped by to see him, Poppy would always put aside that irritant and focus on me as if I were the most important thing in his world. In fact, in those moments, I was the most important thing in his world. No doubt about it.
When it comes to Poppy, who has been “gone” from this world now for 31 years, I do remember the work he did. But I don’t often think about his accomplishments: his Harvard education, multiple buildings, or professional accolades. What I remember is a man who used his gifts in service to others, who lived sacrificially whether at home, at work, at church, or in the community. I remember him as someone who prioritized loving relationships and whose relationship with me was one of the greatest gifts of my life. And I remember Poppy as someone who, though tempted to fret about things that really don’t matter, chose again and again and again to live with significance. His buckets are full of what matters most: work, love, and significance.
Banner image by Oswald Elsaboath on Unsplash.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.