A sagacious life-coach would urge us all to occasionally zoom out and put our lives in perspective. A written assignment might include, “What would you want the epitaph on your tombstone to say?” A percipient piece of advice for looking ahead. But there is a far less lugubrious genus of tombstone on the market that commemorates accomplishments as they occur. And the best part: you don’t need to die to get one!
In 1931 the DuPont corporation developed a material called Lucite, a type of tough glass used for fighter plane windshields. Half a generation later the corporate world annexed the material to fashion paper-weight sized trophies as mementos that mark milestones and reward deal makers for a noteworthy coup. Lehman Brothers apparently employed a full time tombstone designer at $85k per annum to keep the offerings fresh (that was before a real tombstone was raised over its belly-up corpse).
The diminutive size of the Lucite tombstone (or “deal toy”) matches its import—as your gravestone will encompass the impression your lifespan left, these translucent trinkets announce lesser accomplishments, but can still act as little goal markers for which to strive throughout life.
The epitaph visualization is intended to calibrate our lives for the inevitability of eternity. I am a sucker for this type of long-range planning. When Jesse Johnson was my roommate in seminary, he discovered (read: pried in my stuff and stole…) my planning tools; he still teases me about the timeline that has targets and goals for every year from age one (acquire teeth) to age one hundred (remember to pull rip cord while skydiving). Yes, some of those were penned in retrospectively, and the future milestones are all in pencil as per Proverbs 16:9.
I set goals for every conceivable arena of life: spiritual, fitness, education, ministry, publishing, financial, language acquisition, and even reading speed. These give me items for which to pray, plan, and pursue. Holding the goal in mind helps me know when to decline otherwise enticing opportunities and when to apply for those that are not forthcoming.
But equally important—a discipline I am less faithful in—is pausing to reflect on past accomplishments. My reluctance stems from feeling guilty that I am basking in earthly recognition (yuck) or that I am somehow resting on my laurels. As if my mind would tell my body “who cares if you’re out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs, your college gold medals mean you have nothing to prove.” Or, “why do research and write now that you have the academic degree?” But if it is approached carefully the discipline of acknowledging how much God has granted can inspire you to attempt bolder challenges.
Of course, these goals should not be driven by rivalry or vacuous egotism: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). The attainments are only truly fulfilling if they are sought sincerely for the glory of God and if pursued by his grace and within the parameters of his revealed will. No one in heaven cares how much your church grew if you watered down the offense of the cross to fill the pews, and God isn’t impressed by the offering you can afford to give the ministry due to the prodigious profit from your shady business dealings and ruthless reputation.
Our ultimate goal is to please God (2 Cor 5:9-10) by being an effective, grace-dependent steward of what he has given you.
But caveats aside, it is a joy and a privilege, nay, a responsibility to intentionally look back occasionally and see that God has answered prayer, given grace, purged sin, healed hurts, built ministries, granted gifts, and rewarded faithfulness (see Ps 9:1; 75:1; 118:17).
Some object that we should serve with no thought of the reward. But there is nothing mercenary in my son beaming with delight as he unwraps the Christmas present I knew he’d love. I don’t want him to forfeit playing with it because he feels “he doesn’t deserve it.” I want to see his delight. Similarly, God doesn’t give you the desires of your heart (Ps 37:4) only for you to ignore what he’s given you. He wants you to revel in the blessedness of being a child of the most generous and gracious Father in the Universe. (I unpack this glorious doctrine comprehensively in The Preacher’s Payday).
So, this year set your resolutions and goals; but don’t forget to raise a little Lucite Ebenezer of thanks and enjoyment of what God has given this past year. Just remember the somber warning of 1 Corinthians 3:13,
“Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”
In other words, only what is done for God’s glory will endure after they raise your real tombstone.