I cringe when I hear that another family has requested Frank Sinatra’s, “My Way,” for their loved one's funeral service. Sadly I hear this often because my husband regularly conducts funerals for people who don’t profess Christian faith. Family members feel the song epitomises their loved one's life as it celebrates independence, self-sufficiency and pride in being able to live a successful life by their own resourcefulness.
It raises two questions for me. Have they really done it “their way”? And are these values that we want to encourage?
Choices and Opportunities
We are fortunate to live in a Western society that provides us with a wealth of choices and opportunities. We have choices in education, health care, lifestyle and where we live. Most of us had families that provided at least an adequate amount of shelter, nutrition, safety and love. I can’t imagine someone from a third world country having, “My Way,” sung at their funeral. Most haven’t had the opportunity to do life, their way.
Granted that perhaps some have taken up opportunities where others in similar circumstances have not. But it’s an exaggeration to say they did it “their way,” as it implies they did it without the help, support and the opportunities given to them by others.
Furthermore, we can only do something “our way” because God has given us free will. God chose to make people, not puppets. However, having free will doesn’t mean we use it wisely or well. In attempting to achieve great things, there are those who have oppressed others, mistreated them or ignored their suffering. These people value their independence and self-sufficiency and have spent their lives building their own kingdoms. The world and their funeral service celebrate their personal kingdom.
Surprisingly at some of these funerals, the family also requests the Lord’s Prayer ... “may your kingdom come,” without realising that when God’s kingdom comes all other kingdoms will be declared null and void: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation chapter 11 verse 15).
My second question: Are the values of independence, self-sufficiency and pride in our resourcefulness, ones we want to encourage?
Independence can encourage intolerance towards others and lead to isolation and loneliness. Many won’t seek out companionship or value the sense of belonging. They don’t want to accommodate other’s preferences so they don’t attend any event that doesn’t meet their needs or suit their inclinations. They are reluctant to make friends with others from dissimilar backgrounds or with those who hold different opinions. Their self-sufficiency makes it difficult for them to accept help, particularly as they get older, and they begin to struggle with the daily demands of life. Their apparent resourcefulness disappears when their physical and mental capacities wane. Independence, self-sufficiency, and pride aren’t great values to live your life by and won’t actually bring you the most happiness.
How do we live so that no one will be tempted to play, “My Way,” at our funerals?
We acknowledge that we are dependent on God for our very next breath. We thank him for our families and friends who love and support us. We gratefully acknowledge the opportunities we have in Western society, to live, work and play, and our freedom to make lifestyle choices. We remain mindful that not everyone has these same choices. We recognise the value of laying aside our preferences for the benefit of community and the sense of belonging. We also accept that it’s not a weakness to accept help but rather believe that interdependence is good for us and for society.
We choose to follow Jesus’ example of sacrificial love, acceptance and developing a sense of community.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html