What will be on your tombstone?

Written by Phil Callaway

tombOn the night of my 35th birthday, I was tucking my eldest son into bed when he asked, “Dad, how old are you again?” When I told him, he cocked his head to one side and said, “Wow. You’re half dead!” After calmly kissing him goodnight, I went to my study and removed him from the will. Not quite, but I did sit in the living room, with one thought swirling through my head. If I’m really this old, I better decide what I want on my tombstone.

There are some real winners out there already. A tombstone in Ruidoso, New Mexico, reads: “Here lies John Yeast. Pardon me for not rising.” An English lawyer by the name of John Strange had this pun etched on his headstone: “Here lies an honest lawyer, and that is Strange.” One simply says, “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.”

A woman in Key West, Florida was married to a man who was known for his unfaithfulness. So she ordered a tombstone that read: “Frank, at least I know where you are sleeping tonight.” So many tourists chipped away pieces of the headstone as souvenirs that she was forced to replace it without the biting commentary.

You won’t have to look far for bad examples. Zsa Zsa Gabor leads Hollywood’s most married list with nine marriages. Her eighth lasted 1 day. But there is good news too. When the famous film star Gregory Peck was asked the question, “What would you like to leave behind?” he responded simply, “I want to be remembered as a good husband and father. I want to be remembered by my wife as someone who made her happy. They were married 43 years before his recent death.

How about you? How would you like to be remembered? What would you like on your tombstone? One lady answered the question this way, “I’d like my tombstone to say, ‘See, I told you I was sick!’” But a tombstone should speak of our life and most of us would like to be remembered for something. I talked to some of the best-known Christians of our time, asking them the question: “What would you like to be remembered for?” I think you’ll enjoy their answers.

  • Josh McDowell, author and internationally-renowned apologist said, “Thirty years ago when God called me into the ministry He never called me to be successful. He called me to be obedient. And I’d like to be remembered as a man who was obedient and faithful right up to the end. I want to take as many people as I can with me to Heaven, and enjoy life along the way.”
  • Elizabeth Elliot, whose husband Jim Elliot (famous for the words “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose”) was killed by Auca Indians in South America, had a simple answer: “I want to be remembered as a servant of God. Nothing else.”
  • Evangelist Luis Palau, who has spoken to hundreds of millions through his radio and television broadcasts, would like to be remembered “as someone who was faithful to Scripture. Someone who never ceased to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to as many people as possible. That’s what I love to do–faithfully present the Gospel.”
  • Popular singer/songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman said: “I would like my wife to say, ‘I saw his failures. I saw him blow it, but his greatest desire was to live a life that honored Jesus Christ.’ I hope my children will say I was a committed father. And it would be nice if people remembered a song here and there, but that’s pretty insignificant compared to my desire to know Christ and to make Him known.”
  • One of the best-selling authors of our time, Max Lucado, told me, “I hope it will be said that I showed the splendor of God. That I showed why He is worthy of worship. That’s what matters. Of course, I think I would feel like a failure if my children didn’t remember me as a good father, too. That’s what keeps me going.” Then he added with a smile. “That and trying to break 90 on the golf course.”
  • Author, speaker and sociologist Tony Campolo said, “When I hang up my sneakers, I pray there will be hundreds of kids on the mission field because I helped them feel a passion for those who didn’t know Jesus.”
  • And popular songwriter Gloria Gaither, whose song “Because He Lives” has been translated into almost every known language on earth, summed it up this way: “If I had to write my epitaph, it would probably say, ‘She gave herself away for the things that last forever.’”
  • And what would I like on my tombstone? Simply this: “He found God’s grace too amazing to keep to himself.”

It won’t make people laugh. Or be chipped away as a souvenir. But if it speaks of a life lived for God, graced by friendships, and nourished by joy and hope, then I will have lived the richest life of all.

How will you be remembered? Read about how you can find purpose and see if you are living your life by heading in the right direction.

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