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What I Learned From Henry

January 7, 2019


I have the honor of working with families to craft meaningful memorial services when a loved one dies. Each time I am deeply touched and deeply taught. Each life carries an important message and has something to teach.

Not long ago I offered a funeral service for a man named Henry, a man who had much to teach me. Like all good teachers, he taught by how he lived. What I learned from Henry can best be introduced by sharing the beginning of his eulogy:

“You might be surprised to hear me say this, but Henry was a very religious man. Religion is the set of beliefs we choose to live by. And we all have one. Henry’s religion was kindness. His religion was joy. His religion was love. “

The first thing Henry taught me is a fresh meaning of “religion” – that it’s what we choose to believe in and how that translates into how we treat the people in our lives, including ourselves. As humans, our beliefs are malleable. They can change once we become aware of them. Once we see whether they are working for us. There was a time I believed in Santa Claus and now that belief has changed. There was a time I believed my worth was measured in productivity and accomplishment and now that belief has changed.

If you want to know what you believe, take a look at how you choose to spend your time. Take a look at what you fear. Take a look at how you treat yourself and those with whom you spend the most time. What you come up with is a way to name your religion.

The second thing Henry taught me is that what matters most is how we practice our religion with the people closest to us, those who share our homes and our time. When my religion was productivity and accomplishment, I did not treat my family that well, because I chose to leave them a lot. While that was humbling and challenging to face, stepping into a belief that is more aligned with what I truly want has led to a more well-lived life.

The third thing Henry taught me was how he practiced his religion. This matters because what we practice, we become. He practiced kindness by being thoughtful, by taking the time to give thought to words, actions and even gifts. He practiced joy by not waiting to be happy. Henry knew one of life’s great secrets: that it’s ok to be happy for no reason. He chose to be happy which let him spread joy. He practiced love by offering his wife and family devotion and acceptance. Undivided attention is pure love and Henry gave his family this.

Imagine if my religion is peace and yours is kindness, we could openly discuss our religions and even be willing and curious to learn about each other’s. That is a religious awakening in which I’d gladly participate.

With more than 80% of us no longer participating in organized religion, maybe now is a good time to organize our lives by this fresh definition of religion. I choose peace and kindness, how about you?

This blog was originally published on Reverend Sara’s website




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