Who honestly thinks about a question like this, right? Sounds rather morbid and horrid. I have never met anyone in my life who has ever crafted a well-thought-out answer to this question. I mean how many people, particularly the Generation Y cohort, would like to entertain the thought about their inevitable death and write an obituary of themselves? I suspect they would like to think about their promising future and how to tap into their maximum potential. So, the question about their epitaph seems like an odd one.
I first encountered this question when I assumed the role of a HR Director at my business school’s undergraduate student society. A key role I played entailed conducting interviews for our entire service council leaders which amounted to hundreds of interviews. My plan was to follow management guru Jim Collin’s advice and ensure that our interview committee would “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”
So, as I was researching the question on epitaph, I questioned myself who would ever ask a question like this. What was the interviewer really looking for behind this question? It became obvious to me the intention behind the question was a vastly important issue. It was a question about a long-term perspective and vision in life. The fulcrum of the question lied behind what values and priorities most mattered to you in life. By sharing your core values and most important priorities, the interview was looking for what type of goals, attributes, values and legacy did the candidate want to leave. Of course, they are measuring the answers against their level of compatibility of their corporate culture and value system.
Now, thinking and articulating what your epitaph will say will serve as healthy nourishing exercise for us. Before I invite you to engage in this long-term thinking, let me share one epitaph that was personally mind-boggling.
William Carey famously known as the father of modern missions’ epitaph read:
Born August 17the, 1761
Died June 9the, 1834
A wretched, poor, and helpless worm,
On Thy kind arms I fall.
A “helpless worm…..?” As born again Christians, do most of us not think that we are born again creature that are pure and innocent? Who aspires to be a “helpless worm?” Before I read the epitaph I thought it would read something along the lines of how faithful and influential Dr. Carey served the Lord. Again, I soon realized the wisdom and profundity behind the message. This was a humbling moment. Being a ‘worm’ meant as John Piper remarked, “an indomitable servant of Jesus, who, in spite of innumerable failures, perseveres productively to the end by grace along through faith alone.”
The humility of William Carey is showcased through another story.“During Carey's life he always enjoyed good health. In his seventy-third year he became weak with illness and old age but he never slowed down on his work:
"I am now only able to sit and to lie upon the couch, and now and then to read a proof-sheet of the Scriptures; but I am too weak to walk more than across the house, nor can I stand even a few minutes without support." As he grew weaker he was visited by a Dr. Wilson, the Metropolitan of India, who was so enamored by the old missionary that he asked for the dying mans blessing.
Then he was visited by Alexander Duff, who has been called "the apostolic successor of Carey." Mr. Duff spent some time talking with Carey about his life and achievements, till at length Carey whispered, "Pray with me." Duff knelt down and prayed, and then said good-bye. As he was leaving Carey said to him, "Mr. Duff, you have been speaking a great deal about Dr. Carey, Dr. Carey; when I am gone, say nothing about Dr. Carey-speak only about Dr. Carey's Savior."
Wow…this man truly epitomized being “poor in spirit.” He knows that without God, he could have not done what many dubbed as impossible. This was the secret of success of persevering for 40 years despite all the obstacles – “as a homely man, suffering from recurrent fever, limping for years from an injury, and yet putting the Bible into six languages and parts of it into 29 other languages.” “The secret of his life was that as a "wretched, poor, helpless worm" he fell daily, and finally, into the arms of Jesus. When he did he "expected great things from God." And therefore he "attempted great things for God." He was a wonderfully fruitful worm.”
Now, let’s go back to the question about what will be written on our epitaph. I know God is using me in every endeavor to direct me to his purpose. I have discovered my mission in life, and I’m in the process of refining my vision and reinforcing my set of core values. How is God using you in your life? Start thinking about what your epitaph will say. I guarantee this will serve you profitable in the many years to come.