If you could write a eulogy for yourself, what would it say?
This probably isn’t something you’ve spent a lot of time considering, but eulogies are important for any funeral or memorial service. They’re an opportunity for people to express fond things about the dearly departed. Eulogies briefly shift our focus from feelings of loss to fond reflections about the friend or family member that has just passed away.
Occasionally, giving a eulogy is problematic – when it’s a stretch to think of anything positive to say about the one deceased. Speaker James McDonald noted this recently, recalling times when he presided over services for people that weren’t well-liked. At such occasions, giving a eulogy – being truthful at the same time – can be difficult.
One might say in all candor, “He sure was different,” or “she was one of a kind.” Beyond that, finding something good to say might be challengeing.
You don’t want those assembled wondering, “Who in the world are they talking about?” At the same time, we don’t want to kick a man when he’s down – literally.
What about eulogies for people who aren’t dead? “Eulogy” is derived from the Greek eulogia, meaning “praise” or “blessing.” In that sense, we needn’t wait until a person’s last breath to “bless” them. Everyone appreciates sincere compliments and encouragement, so why wait until they’re gone?
You might be thinking, “Okay, thanks for the reminder. I’ll try to remember to say something nice to my spouse (or best friend, or business partner, or pastor).” However, what about “eulogizing” people very much alive that you don’t like?
“Why would I want to do that?” you ask. As the classic children’s song says, “How do I know? The Bible tells me so.” In 1 Peter, the apostle writes about a variety of relationships – including ones we wish we didn’t have. He starts, “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). Another version translates the last part, “humble in spirit.” This sounds easy enough regarding people we care about. But then the admonition gets more complicated:
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). There’s that eulogy word again. Even when people treat us badly, or say nasty things to us, we’re instructed not to “bless them out,” but to “eulogize” them with words of kindness, not ones that match their wickedness.
This teaching clearly runs counter to the spirit of our age, when factions seek “peace” by spewing hatred toward those with opposing views. Conversation and debate are anything but civil. Why should we respond to insults or evil with blessings? That makes no sense, right?
Perhaps, but Romans 12:20 makes clear Peter wasn’t some Pollyanna-minded apostle. Another apostle, Paul, concurred when he wrote, “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’” He was quoting Psalm 25:21-22, showing this blessing principle spans testaments Old and New.
This is neither easily done nor said. With so many people eagerly shouting epithets toward anyone that disagrees with them, the last thing we want to do is bless them with words of kindness, affirmation or sentiments that could foster harmony and unity.
That’s the amazing thing about the Bible. So often God asks of us things diametrically opposed to the culture and norms of our time. But as Jesus taught His followers, our behavior should make us stand out, revealing us as radically distinctive from the non-believing world around us. That’s where being “humble in spirit” comes in.
Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that…. But love your enemies, do good to them…. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:33-36).
Although He didn’t specifically refer to our speech in this passage, the principle is clear. It’s not unusual to feel vindictive and spiteful, to return evil in kind. Demonstrating Christ’s presence in our lives, however, calls for something totally different.
What about that family member you’ve been feuding with, a colleague at work set on being a thorn in your side, or an unreasonable neighbor unable to engage in a calm, reasonable discussion?
Rather than adding fuel to the fire, maybe we can douse the blaze with counter-intuitive responses. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We’re not responsible for the fiery behavior of others – but don’t need to fan the flames.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at email@example.com.