“George Herbert Walker Bush was America’s last great soldier-statesman, a twentieth-century founding father. He governed with virtues that most closely resemble those of Washington and of Adams, of TR and of FDR, of Truman and of Eisenhower, of men who believed in causes larger than themselves.”
With these words, biographer Jon Meacham eulogized President George H. W. Bush at yesterday’s state funeral in Washington, DC. The service at the National Cathedral was one of the most moving I have witnessed.
Several speakers referred to the late Barbara Bush, the president’s amazing wife of seventy-three years, and to their daughter Robin, who died of leukemia at the age of three. I was especially touched when President George W. Bush ended his wonderful eulogy in tears as he said, “Dad is hugging Robin and holding Mom’s hand again.”
I was reminded of a cartoon published after Mr. Bush died. It pictures a World War II fighter plane now landed in heaven. Next to it are the president and Barbara wearing her trademark pearls, holding hands with little Robin. His wife says, “We waited for you.”
“Why was I spared?”
The great theologian and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen noted: “We have to prepare ourselves for our death with the same care and attention as our parents prepared themselves for our births.” George H. W. Bush was prepared for his death long before it came.
His son noted in his eulogy that Mr. Bush nearly died twice–once from a staph infection when he was a teenager and once when he was shot down in the Pacific in World War II. George W. Bush then said, “For dad’s part, I think those brushes with death made him cherish the gift of life. And he vowed to live every day to the fullest.”
According to Meacham, Mr. Bush thought nearly every day about his brush with death during the war and asked himself, “Why me? Why was I spared?” Meacham offered this answer: “The workings of providence are mysterious, but this much is clear: that George Herbert Walker Bush, who survived that fiery fall into the waters of the Pacific three quarters of a century ago, made our lives and the lives of nations freer, better, warmer, and nobler.
“That was his mission. That was his heartbeat. And if we listen closely enough, we can hear that heartbeat even now. For it’s the heartbeat of a lion, a lion who not only led us, but who loved us. That’s why him. That’s why he was spared.”
Why you? Why me?
Now let’s turn President Bush’s question to ourselves: Why you? Why me?
In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson describes the improbable circumstances that led to your birth:
“Every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result–eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly–in you.”
You may be able to recall times in your life where God seemed to intervene miraculously. In addition, the Lord has likely spared each of us in ways we will not know until we are in heaven. My point is that each of us has as much reason to ask why we are alive as did George H. W. Bush.
His question is especially relevant for Christians since our place in heaven is already assured. Just as a father longs to be with his children, so our Father longs to be with us. Scripture testifies, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15).
Every day we spend on earth is another day we are not with our Father in heaven. Each day must therefore have a purpose so significant that our Father is willing to leave us here to fulfill it.
Asking why we are here is an essential step to answering the question.
“What ignites your heart?”
Do you know your life purpose?
Max Lucado offers a helpful suggestion: “Want to know God’s will for your life? Then answer this question: ‘What ignites your heart?’” He adds: “The fire of your heart is the light of your path.” Frederick Buechner says it this way: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
The best way to prepare for eternity is to live each day for eternal purposes. It is to value people over possessions, the spiritual over the material, and the glory of God over the glory of man. It is to use your influence to change your culture for the Kingdom.
Let’s start where we are with those we know.
Five years ago, George H. W. Bush learned that the two-year-old son of a Secret Service agent assigned to his detail had leukemia. The boy had lost his hair, so members of the detail planned to shave their heads to show their support. Mr. Bush shaved his head as well. The agents who witnessed his kindness said they will never forget it.
A friend who “takes us by the hand”
Would you say our culture needs more George H. W. Bushes? More women and men who love God with all their heart and their neighbor as themselves? More people who are willing to use their influence to serve their Lord and their fellow man with sacrificial integrity and humility?
Henri Nouwen assures us that when we are prepared for eternity, “Death is not the enemy who puts an end to everything but the friend who takes us by the hand and leads us into the Kingdom of eternal love.”
George Herbert Walker Bush found death to be such a friend.