Unlike Jesus, few of us know the time and place of our departure. It seems wise to prepare our last words, our equivalent to Jesus’ upper room discourse, now. In Jerusalem, our Lord purposely gathered his disciples in the upper room. He knew it was his time, so (John 13:1) he loved them to the end– with foot washing, with directions, with a mission, with a promise of the Holy Spirit, and finally with a prayer we cherish (John 17). Have you, like Jesus, considered what essential message you would like to share with your dear ones?
To focus on this task, there is a pertinent question. What can you alone give to your people? Do they really understand who you are, who God is, and what He has done for you and in you? Was much of your life focus and experience gained before they were old enough to understand or participate in your growth process? If they are still too young, perhaps too distant, even uninterested or estranged, consider writing or videotaping the important heritage that only you can give them. It is possible to extend your love even beyond your own lifetime. Jesus demonstrated four ways to invest in those entrusted to you as well as those that will follow them.
FOOT WASHING is a humbling process for all participants. Jesus modeled it, and several churches and ministries continue this practice. Many families tell me they negotiate the underlying seriousness of their annual family meeting with humor. Humor is a wonderful tool, but it can also detract and undermine. One godly father followed Jesus’ example by washing the feet of his adult sons. I understand everyone became very quiet. Couldn’t this practice create the intimate vulnerability we need to achieve relational closure and healing? Many of our most important relationships are strained if not broken. How glorious if we could alleviate pain, bitterness, and guilt by tending to the interpersonal business many families leave undone. I love you. I forgive you. Please forgive me. These are powerful, life-changing words. We have no control over the hearts of others. We can express our love and humbly ask for and offer forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24).
DIRECTIONS: Jesus made his destination very clear. More than twenty times (John 13-17), he stated that he was “going to the Father.” Do your people know to whom you are going? Share how you found your way to God or how The Good Shepherd found you. Think of stories to illustrate the love you have found, so you are not tempted to preach. Describe how your relationship with the Lord has weathered the various seasons of life. This is a unique opportunity to point out the universality of trials as well as God’s faithfulness in hard times. God is the one who gives life and growth, but we are called to sow the seeds, water them, or gently till the soil around seedlings crowded by cares of this world. Sharing what we have seen God do in our lives, our testimony, is a powerful tool credited along with the blood of Jesus and not clinging to this life as the means of defeating Satan (Rev. 12:11).
HERITAGE: Passing our heritage to the next generation is not egotistical, but God’s plan (Psalm 78:5-7). To do so requires us to reach backward in time and capture our own family histories, adding our personal life story, as well our loving perspectives on the lives in which we have invested. A godly heritage is the result of intentional nurturing and careful choices generation by generation. Our children, nieces and nephews, cannot know such things unless we tell them. Were you there when they took their first steps? Overcame a huge obstacle? Made the varsity team? Forgave someone who hurt them deeply? We encounter much negative feedback in this life—preserve for them your delight and enjoyment of who they are, and who they are becoming. You have the opportunity to bless the next generation as none other.
PRAYER: John 17 is a most wonderful prayer for you, me, and all the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). We too can pray for those we will leave behind. One intercessor I know carefully selects a verse to pray for each grandchild, each year. At the end of that year, the grandchild receives his or her verse as a plaque or bookmark. My faithful, interceding friend was delighted to discover her grandchildren treasure these scriptural mementos of her prayers for them. Wow! What a faith-building inheritance! This dear woman is truly building a trust fund of prayer for her loved ones. Death may be a part of our future, but so is the privilege of praying for loved ones—to a thousand generations (Exodus 20:6). We know this since Jesus Christ is praying for us now . . . seated at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 7:25, 12:2). So, you can promise your loved ones your prayer support even when your face to face relationship is interrupted.
IF your household is in a known order,
IF your medical advocate and the executor of your estate have legal papers to empower them,
IF the essentials of your memorial service have been identified,
IF you work at optimizing your health but you have planned for the possibility of a decline later in life,
IF you have informed your support team of all these preparations,
THEN, prepare your last words. They may generate the most meaningful, impactful conversation of this life.