Summary: Funeral message for Calvin John King, widower, father of seven, and long-term post-traumatic stress syndrome sufferer.
We have all been taught to be unselfish. “Share your toys”, we say to our children. I am pretty sure that was said in the King household, with seven pairs of hands grabbing for the same stuffed animal. “Let your brother have some of your candy bar; you must not be selfish.” All very well, except that with five hungry brothers hovering over you, what does that leave for you yourself?! Nonetheless, we have all been taught to be unselfish. It’s the right thing, it’s the necessary thing, it’s even the Christian thing. Parents even drag in Jesus to reinforce this. “If anyone asks of you your coat, give him your cloak also.” Well, but Jesus, if I had an extra cloak – but I don’t. It’s not much fun to be unselfish, but it is the right way, the Christian way, and we have all been told that numerous times.
However, there comes a time when good spiritual health dictates that we do something for ourselves. There comes a time when self-care is right, and is an expression of the grace of God. Such a time came for John King; and such a time has come for the King family. This is a time for you to take care of yourselves.
In the passage I read, from Paul’s letter to Timothy, as short as it is, Paul used the word “me” four times. It’s jarring to hear that, if we are in the habit of thinking that we ought to take ourselves and our needs out of the picture. “For me” he says. “For me” and “to me”. Sounds like the me-ism of our own generation; feels like the shampoo model who purrs, “I’m worth it.” “For me” – what is this? Doesn’t sound very spiritual, does it?
But Paul has come a long way by this time. Paul has been through a great deal. He has traveled many journeys, he has been imprisoned more than once, he has suffered shipwreck and mob violence and Roman justice, a tremendous amount. And worse, he has suffered the disappointments that sting the sharpest because they come from the people he loved most, the people of his churches. Paul has been through a great deal, and knows that he does not have long to live. It is a different time in his life. It is not missionary journey time or stand-up in the arena time or even fight the theological fight time. It is a different time. It is time for Paul to take care of Paul. It is his time for himself.
I believe that John King came also to such a time. And I believe that this is such a time for his family. Self-care time. What must we know about that?
First, Paul says that he has fought the good fight. He has done battle where he was called to do so. Against enemies of the gospel he has fought, not always victorious, but always confident that he was doing what was right. And always confident that the battle was worth the sacrifice. “I have fought the good fight”.
John King too was a fighter. John was proud of his service to his country, and was awarded a variety of medals and citations for that service. The family has provided a display of John’s military medals, and that’s right, because John himself loved to show them. John fought his country’s fight, and paid an awesome price for victory. He bore the scars of battle to the very end.
But John fought other battles as well. John fought a battle against illness. His health was fragile for a long time. But I think that instinctively he knew that he could not yield to that illness, that it had to be fought, not only for the sake of a family who needed him, but also just for himself. When John would need to go to the hospital to adjust his medication, none of us blamed him for anything. None of us thought ill of him for that. We know that we cannot spend ourselves without replenishing, or else we are no good to anyone. John fought the good fight against his illness, and to have come well past three-score-and-ten is no small achievement.
Some of us in this room, the preacher included, need to learn that lesson in self-care – that when we think we are being heroic and do not take care of our own health, we are in fact setting things up so that we will cheat others of what we say we want to give them. We need to learn from John to fight the good fight for our own health.
And John fought long and hard also against the enemy of shortage. He worked so very hard to support his family. It was his crowning ambition to see each one fed and housed and clothed, cared for with dignity and with love. Some of you have said that you saw too little of him when you were young, because he spent such long hours working to support you. I personally know that money was always a concern to John, because whenever I would see him, he would invariably ask about this church with the question, “How’s the church budget?”. If I could tell him the church budget was on the upswing, he would be pleased. And it is, John, it is!