A week ago Sunday, our pastor said something in church that I wrote down: the value of acting in compassion is worth at least as much as what comes from that act. He was obviously challenging us to act more compassionately. I’ve always believed in the value of compassion to some degree; I just had never heard it worded that way. During my years of working with kids, I couldn’t help but notice just how much joy and a sense of goodness the kids felt any time they did a community service project. Granted, the projects didn’t always start as an act of compassion for them, but they usually ended that way.
So the ink had barely dried on the note card that I wrote his words of wisdom on when I received an email from an old friend whose husband had passed away. And in the email, she asked if I would come deliver her husband’s eulogy. Now by old friend, I mean a friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 30 years. And I had never met her husband. The human instinct in me began to process how difficult it would be to get off of work. To ask how on earth you could speak about someone you don’t know. And a million other questions I often present myself to justify doing the easy things in life instead of the right things.
I was only seconds into this process of negotiating with myself when a big image of that note card flashed before my eyes. It was like God was suddenly holding a billboard in front of me. It was a big billboard with lots of flashing lights and bright colors. And it said: stop thinking stupid, I already gave you the answer to this one.
So I boarded a plane this past weekend and flew to Ohio and delivered a eulogy that covered the life of someone a week ago I knew nothing about. In doing so, I learned a lot.
I learned that Larry Hamby was an incredible man. Every description I received of this man portrayed a man who followed what Jesus called the two greatest commandments. He loved God. He loved his neighbors. And the key to the latter is that Larry truly understood that when Jesus referred to neighbors, he wasn’t limiting the command to loving the old lady next door. Larry loved the neighbors that were his family, his co-workers, and the perfect strangers he crossed paths with that needed a helping hand. I wonder if that is why he was described by every single person who talked to me as the happiest man they had met?
I learned that our lives are made empty by not taking more time to know perfect strangers. It’s too easy to write the world off as being full of evil people. People who might not be like us. When in reality, if we took some time to get to know the people around us, we would discover there is at least more goodness in the world than we knew before meeting those very people.
Third, nothing that challenges us in life is equal to the challenge of those grieving the loss of a loved one.
Larry’s brother described him as having a “servant’s heart”. I believe we were all born with servant’s hearts. I know I don’t use mine as often as I’ve been called to do. Failing to do so deprives me of the chance to experience the unending joy that comes from acting out of compassion. I suppose it’s because I so often talk myself into the easy things in life. I assure you that before I began to deliver this eulogy, my insides were experiencing anything but easy. Then I received an email from my wonderful wife that offered this simple reminder: If God takes you to it, he’ll walk you through it. From that point on, God gave me the confidence and wisdom to deliver words that I know were his, and I hope served as a blessing to Larry’s family and friends.