Today we said goodbye to, and celebrated the life of, someone who had a profound effect on my life. A deeply Godly man, he was known for love and, as someone said to me this evening, if you cut him through you would have found that love written at his core. It was a bitter-sweet occasion: poignant, worship filled and yes, thankful.
Afterwards there were of course a myriad of conversations: it was as though the church had entered a time warp where familiar faces, long since moved away, thronged. He would have loved it. For an extreme introvert like me such occasions are exhaustingly fraught, but one thing that was said really made me think.
Someone commented to me that the people this lovely man had mentored (and, in many ways, fathered) demonstrated one thing in particular: whilst they had many and varying gifts, what they all shared was a deep development of character.
Gifts of course, whilst they can be enhanced or neglected, are not things we choose: they are just what they are called, gifts. My brother was an extremely gifted athlete, running at country and national level and seen as a real Olympic hope. I well remember my sports teacher, realising we were siblings, putting me over every kind of athletic hurdle, distance etc until declaring that I really was hopeless, an undoubted truth I had told her at the start. We cannot choose to be a gifted musician or scientist, though we can practice conscientiously and study hard. We can only make the best of our innate abilities.
But character, that is different. That is where we have much more choice. It is formed when we choose to forgive despite being treated with injustice or on the receiving end of deep hurt. It is built when we make a choice which is honourable when it would be easier to take a different path. It grows in us, putting down the most beautiful of roots, when it is love we decide to demonstrate, laying aside joyfully and cheerfully the selfishness which is inherent in our humanity and which can so easily eclipse our God-given beauty. And that simple fact, that we can decide our responses to the trials life throws at us and let them deepen who we are, is for me at least a profound challenge. I hope, not only for the sake of the dear friend we celebrated today, that it is one I can make the best of.