Many years ago I was at a friend’s wedding in Colorado. As is often the case at events like that, I sat around making random and sometimes painful small talk with a bunch of people I’d never met before. I finally found a spot next to my friend and roommate from college’s grandma, who had become a kind of adoptive grandparent to me as well.
So I sat and talked with Barbelle Vader (1920-2012), the spunkiest (and friendliest) old lady I’ve ever met. With a thick and proper North Dakota accent, she could make you hurt from laughter, all while she remained quite serious and matter of fact. This is the same lady who served me a slice of pizza in her elderly home and—grabbing the piece with a giant bubble on it—said, “Oh, Eric, this is the piece for you. Look at the size of the breast on that one! This is your kind of pizza!”
After she reminded me of the “breasted pizza incident”—with my wife and her family sitting all around us—she said, quite bluntly, “Eric, I’m going to die soon. Well, it’s true. So, I want you to preach my funeral. Only you can’t say a bunch of nice things about me, that’s the only requirement I have. I go to all these funerals—because that’s all us old people have to do anymore—and I hear them saying all these nice things about the person and I think, ‘Am I at the wrong funeral? Have we got the wrong person?’ Well, I just want you to say ‘This was Barbelle and she was a pain in the rear, but she served me the best breasted pizza of my life.’ Just tell them who I really was.”
Lost for now to time and a decaying body, Barbelle is now with the Lord, but her lesson remains for you and me today: We can think lofty things about ourselves and paint an unrealistically rosy self-portrait, but in the end our deeds will define us. And as the witty old friend pointed out, if all you see in the mirror is a real sweetheart, then your view of yourself is probably wrong.
You hear this sort of talk all the time, don’t you? I’ve heard co-workers, former bosses and other acquaintances say things like, “Well, I’m just a tell-it-like-it-is kinda guy. If I’ve got something to say, I say it to your face.” As you recall the scathing email they recently sent five minutes after a face-to-face chat in which they aired no complaint, you think to yourself, buddy, straightforward is the last thing you are. To an extent we’re all like this—we think more highly of ourselves than we should. Our view of ourselves doesn’t match reality.
Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright (Proverbs 20:11).
I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).
One more example. In my last job I had the opportunity to hire my own staff, which meant that I was constantly interviewing candidates for open positions. An interesting fact became clear—when a person we hired turned out to be a good employee, I could always look back to the interview and see how they viewed themselves was fairly accurate. They really were hard workers, team players and dedicated people, just as they described.
On the other hand, when we hired complete duds—many of them Christians, by the way—it was almost always true the way they thought of themselves was a gross distortion of reality. Even to the end when they either quit or were fired, they’d defend themselves as faithful workers (even when six other wise leaders, pointing to actual results and actions, said otherwise). If you constantly shirk responsibility, always want time off so you can hang with your buddies and fail to meet the basic job requirements, then no matter what you say about yourself, you’re not a dependable employee.
Unless you see and acknowledge that your heart is desperately wicked without God (Jeremiah 17:9) and that there’s a constant war going on within you to see yourself as you really are (Galatians 5:17), then your view of yourself cannot be true. A great question is not how you see yourself, but how would others describe you? Better yet, what do your deeds say about you in the mirror of God’s Word?
We will all be judged, not by how we thought of ourselves, but by what we did (2 Corinthians 5:10). In the words of Batman,
But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.
What do your deeds say about you? Can you live with that? For it is as Maximus said in Gladiator, ‘What we do in life echoes in eternity.’