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15 January 2016

What will people say about me when I die?

What will people say about me when I die?

Over the last few weeks it's seemed as if death has been prominent almost everywhere I care to look.

We've had the passings of Lemmy, frontman of Motorhead, musician and actor David Bowie and, just as I'm writing this, actor Alan Rickman. All of these deaths have been marked by substantial comment, much communal grief and, certainly in the case of Bowie, a rapid turning to back catalogues, both recent and from the distant past.

This has, in my view, seen an almost instant elevation of the impact each one has made on our culture and on our lives. There have been comments and eulogies from the prime minister and other senior politicians,  the Archbishop of Canterbury, and people from all walks of society.

Social media is awash with lyric quotes from Bowie, interview quotes from Lemmy and lines from Rickman's most prominent roles. Those who knew them have written and spoken with touching gravitas; those who did not know them, but to whom their artistic talent and their ways of life meant so much, have if anything been more voluble in ascribing influence to them, and in marking their passing.

These were people who made a real difference to a great many people. That Bowie's one week old album Blackstar is such a formidable and prescient piece of work has only added to the weight of praise given to him. Here was a man who lived life on his own terms, we're told, who controlled his output, who lived with integrity and who created marvelously right up to the moment of his death.

As I read or listened to as much information as I could find about each of these situations, I found myself wondering: "What will people say about me when I die?"

Of all the thoughts I could have had, this struck me as odd. What is it that I might be seeking for myself? Is it influence? Recognition from my peers and wider society? Or have I reached a point where, in order to feel validated and secure, I need to know that people love and value me?

Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to be loved or liked. Humans are designed to be in community. We were created for loving relationship and partnership with God, and for His pleasure and glory. We are called to love ourselves and each other. As my life is safe with Christ in God, I have all the value I will ever need from Him. 

In other parts of the world this week, we have seen yet more terrorist atrocities, perhaps most notably in Jakarta. The value of each of the lives lost in such attacks is the same to God as any other. The lives of these people were not noted or marked in the same way by us as those of celebrities and yet, for each one, the same arms of love, peace, joy and hope remain open. Very many of us may not be celebrated in this life or by others after our races are run, but the grace and love of God is the same for each and every person.

So, what will people say about me when I die? I have no idea, I just hope my life has told the story of the life, death, resurrection and love of Jesus, and that I shone the light and hope of that love into the world.

Whether you have a lot of influence or very little, shine the light of creativity, of possibility. Show that there is more to life than this and let the story that is told about you be one that points to hope.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

Haydon Spenceley is a musician, writer and a curate in the Church of England.  You can find out more about him on his website.

Image: CC Marc Wathleu