I’ve had the blues for a few weeks now. It’s not a full-blown depression. It’s just a nagging funk that doesn’t seem to have a good reason for its existence and doesn’t seem to have an end. I get it once or twice a year, often on the backside of winter. Since I haven’t been able to just get over it, my wife offered a solution. She kindly told me to get lost.
So, Saturday morning I headed out of town to get lost in the country. I needed to get away for a few hours to a quiet place to reflect on the meaning of my life and pray about what in the world to do about it. I headed south and ended up at this old cemetery.
This little country church overlooks the cemetery surrounded by rolling fields of plowed-under crops and a winding ribbon of road full of small farms and modest houses. My grandmother whom I loved was buried here just two years ago, so it’s a special place to me.
It’s a quiet place. A car drives by swiftly every five or ten minutes, but it’s still quiet. The church has a newer building right next to the original which was built in 1824. I like the original much better.
It’s also the place where most of the ancestors on my father’s side are buried — all the way back to my great-great-great-grandfather. Back in 1845, Casper immigrated to the U.S. on a steamboat from the Westphalia region of Prussia (now Germany). A few years after his arrival, he lost an arm in a foundry accident at the age of thirty. Welcome to the new industrial America, Casper. From then on, he managed a dairy farm for the rest of his life. All tolled, he had three wives and 22 children. He was buried in 1899. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know that his life must have been extremely difficult. I imagine that he attended an awful lot of funerals, many of which were for his own children and wives.
I also imagine that I might be buried here someday by the oak tree where the groundhogs have dug up some earth recently.
On the trip there and back, I listened to an old tape that was in the glovebox of a Father’s Day sermon. It was based on Psalm 127, written by King Solomon, about the importance of raising children well. With great humor, conviction, and experience, he explained that the most meaning to be made in life is through faith and family. Nothing else comes close to providing as much meaning. I thought of the many somber truths in Ecclesiastes, also written by Solomon, and the pieces began to fit together for me again. These truths may seem all-too-obvious for some, and they may seem all-too-simple for others: however, I deeply believe them to be true.
1. Faith and family are the two most important things in life. When it’s all said and done, whether my life lasts sixty more years or sixty more minutes, I want to love and serve God, my wife, and my children. The rest is trivial in comparison. The problem is that my work demands so much, and my hobbies are so fun, my to-do list is so long, and my mind wanders so often. It is so hard to stay focused when everyday life is so fragmented.
2. Faith and family are also the most difficult things in life, no matter how I arrange my life. I cannot manage my life to make it easy to have rich relationships with God and my family. It’s tough, and there’s no making it easy, for every relationship has its challenges and every family has its dysfunctions. It doesn’t help that I have my own issues. But in the end, there are easier ways of living, but none better.
These truths ring out to me, as I walk among the headstones. It’s all right there on the ground, some written on granite, some on limestone. Faith and family. Ironically, my last name means “church yard” (graveyard) in German. It’s a good reminder that life is short, life is hard, God is good, and I love my family. Just in time to drive back to town to catch my son’s soccer game.
As a capstone to the weekend, I found this gem in the newspaper. Thank you Post-Dispatch for the inspiration.