My ninety-three-year-old mother passed away on Sunday, February 23. The memorial service was this past Sunday in the city where she was born and where she and Dad raised my sister, brother, and me. Mom and Dad were not successful by society’s typical standards of greatness. They had no fame or fortune. But while they did not epitomize such greatness, they did embody goodness. In that case, they were hugely successful. In fact, they have helped me redefine success.
How often I missed them. How often I looked right past them, even while they looked right at me, saw me, and others, too. Mom and Dad deeply valued those around them. Examples include my father’s gregarious greetings to people at church, in the neighborhood, at the store, or at the toll booth as he drove to and from work. Other instances include my mother’s quiet attentiveness to people as she shared coffee and chocolate with them as they shared their hearts with her, gave shut-in individuals rides when she could drive, and later came alongside secluded souls in her wheelchair. They enveloped others in the realization that they matter, that they have God-given dignity. Having grown up during the Great Depression, Mom and Dad understood the fear of scarcity. They also understood that relational emptiness is far worse than material leanness and loss, as family and friends in solidarity provide support in a variety of amazing ways. During Lent, when many of us give up certain material comforts and go without, may we never give up on others and allow them to live in isolation.
My parents’ formal education ended with high school graduation. But they gave me a lifelong education in Jesus’ school of discipleship. Like their Lord Jesus to whom they introduced me and modeled for me, Mom and Dad did not run past others, and certainly not over them. They stopped for them along the way.
Mom and Dad redefine success for me now. Great leaders, whom Hegel refers to as “world-historical” persons, could learn a thing or two from them, those like them, and the Lord Jesus to whom their lives bear witness, and unlearn the following:
A world-historical individual is not so circumspect as to want this, that, and the other, and to take account of everything: rather, he commits himself unreservedly to one purpose alone. So it happens that such individuals treat other interests, even sacred ones, in a casual way—a mode of conduct certainly open to moral censure. But so great a figure must necessarily trample on many an innocent flower, crushing much that gets in his way.
Further to what was stated above, my mother and father led me to Jesus who never ran over or trampled anyone, innocent flowers or otherwise. Rather, he touched, healed and wept with them, like he did with Martha and Mary just before he raised their brother Lazarus from the dead. It was only fitting that John 11 which recounts this story was read at my mother’s funeral. Jesus came to serve. He saved others, and so he could not save himself (Matthew 27:42). Lent involves suffering for God and others, despising one’s own life, not suffering others’ existence as in despising them.
During Lent, let’s not run past others, or run over them on the highway, on the street, at work, in the home, at church, or at the store. Rather, let’s hit the pause button. During Lent, and after Lent is complete, let’s make sure we have lent a helping hand and given away our hearts. After all, that’s what Jesus did and continues to do. Let him redefine success for you, and others through you, just as he has done for me through my parents’ lives.
G.W.F. Hegel, Introduction to The Philosophy of History, with selections from The Philosophy of Right, translated, with an introduction by Leo Rauch (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1988), page 35.