Meaningless? (@RevPamSmith)

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The book of Ecclesiastes contains possibly the most frightening statement in the Bible –

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes  1.2, New International Version

The search for the meaning of life occupies most of us at some point. Why are we here, who put us here, what should we do with our lives? As we get older, we discover the difficult truth – however much we achieve, eventually our work and our achievements will be forgotten as new people and new achievements take their place. This applies just as much online as offline – people can built up huge followings and a big reputation, high traffic on a blog can make the blogger’s opinions influential with decision makers. But eventually we will all go offline and our influence will fade.

Thinking about Ecclesiastes reminded me of one particular funeral for someone who had died suddenly in middle age. When I visited the family I got such a clear picture of her life and influence, I was able to talk about her as if I had known her very well. Part of what I said is copied below:

Laurence told me he and Sarah that they talked about anything and everything and the conversation never stopped in all their years of  marriage. When I talked to the family about Sarah, the word love came up again and again. She was never happier than when surrounded by her extended family and clearly loved then and was loved by them a great deal. She was the sort of person that others just love to be around the life and soul of the party, with a great sense of humour and a terrific sense of fun. Her GP said she was one of his favourite patients because she always made him laugh. She wasnt a pushover though. She could be very forthright if she felt something needed to be said but never bore a grudge. She never had a cross word with her mother in law and was, in turn, much loved by her childrens partners. She loved clothes and always looked good, but also had an inner beauty and charm that lit up the world around her. She wrote poems for people because I want you to know what I think about you before I goand kept a diary every day. In the last entry in the diary, Sarah wrote about how happy she was and thanked God for it.

Love was the key to Sarahs personality and she had a great love of God. She attended church regularly, and was very conscious of her Jewish roots. She was completely sure that when she died shed go to Jesus. The Good Samaritan was one of her favourites because it expressed how she felt Jesus wanted us to behave. This was reflected in her great kindness to other people.

When someone dies its often said that we have our memories left, but in fact Sarah left much more than that. When we love and admire someone their example and influence remain after theyre gone. When someone has gone our of their way to be kind to us, that changes our lives.

Sarah was completely sure that she would be with Jesus when she died, and that assurance has been a great comfort to the family. Jesus often described heaven as a great feast to which the most unlikely people were going to be invited. From what Ive heard about Sarah, I think she will enjoy it.

How wonderful to live a life that people remember with gratitude and joy! Like anyone working hard at an online ministry, I have days when I am worried about hit rates and user numbers, or feel put down because my contribution has ignored. At times like this I may wonder if the Teacher in Ecclesiastes is right, and my ministry is meaningless.

Sarah’s life, and the life of many others around me, reminds me that ministry, online or offline, isn’t about numbers or prizes or building a big reputation. It is about a life well lived, and the difference we can make by being present for other people and offering them that most intangible and virtual gift of all – love.

(Real names have been changed.)

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