Every four years in this country as a president’s term nears completion you begin to hear about what their legacy will be as a president. Some become so concerned with what their legacy will be that the last year or more of their term is spent on trying to develop some legacy that will set them apart in the history books. But it is seldom the case that anyone, no matter what office they hold can determine their legacy by what they do in the last year of their term or their life. The whole concept of a legacy is that it is something for which you gave your life or your life’s work to accomplish.
Lincoln’s legacy was the freedom of slaves that had been owned as property before the Emancipation Proclamation. Washington’s legacy was a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Think of people in your family background and decide what their legacy was as far as your family or those who knew them well, was. In my view my grandfather Elliott left a legacy of kindness and laughter. He was a very large man and when I think of him I see him laughing all over. He was gentle and kind to me so I think he must have been to others as well. My grandfather Barnes has a very different legacy as far as my memory is concerned. He died when I was still a boy so I don’t have a lot of basis for the pictures of him that are fixed in my mind. His legacy was one of hardness. Instead of featuring him laughing, I see one who was angry, critical and difficult to handle.
Your legacy will be determined by how your children, grandchildren and family see you in their mind when you have gone on to be with the Lord. We won’t be able to write our own script. Their mental image will be determined by the actions and attitudes they remember for us. Because that is the case it is often true that we have a very different legacy with some of our family than what we have in others.
Stephen Covey has said that the main purposes of life are to “Live, love and leave a legacy.”
What legacy would you like to leave for your children and grandchildren? Imagine a scene of your mate, children and grandchildren all gathered a month after your funeral in an attorney’s office. They have gathered for the reading of your will. Imagine their surprise when the lawyer says, “We’ve gathered today as requested by your dad and granddad while he was still alive, to explain to you the legacy he wanted to make sure he had passed down to you.” Someone in the group would likely speak up to say, “We thought we were gathered to receive an inheritance.” The lawyer says, “Your father decided before he died to give all the money he had and all the property he owned to the church. He felt that if he passed down his money to you that it would cause conflict in the family and since he had taught everyone to work hard and earn a living that wouldn’t be what was best for you.” One of the children speaks up again with a questioning look on their face. “Are you saying he gave everything he owned to the church and nothing to us?” The lawyer says, “I wouldn’t say he left nothing to you. He left you a good name, a great family and tons of wonderful memories. He wanted his legacy to be one of giving. He believed that this would not only be what was best for you but that it would be what you wanted him to do.”
I suspect the people in the room would be somewhat shocked. As they all left in their different cars they all seemed to be miles away from each other in their thoughts.
What kind of conversations would go on in the car on the way home when you were with just your immediate family? Would some be saying, “well, there goes our hopes for buying that new home and having a good down payment?” In another car you could have heard, “I’m sorry to say that this means you won’t be able to go to that private college. I had just thought dad would have cared enough about your future that he would have provided for that.”
Would there have been a voice of approval, thanksgiving and praise for the dad’s decision in any of the cars?
A legacy can’t been handed down like a family ring that has passed from one generation to another for over a hundred years. It has to do with what we are, the influence we have on others and what mattered most to us in life.
I don’t know what my children and grandchildren will remember most when I’ve gone on to be with the Lord. Here are some things I would hope they would remember and would declare to others that this was the legacy I left behind.
1. He loved God with all his heart and lived by what he believed God wanted of him every day.
2. He loved us unconditionally. Even when we messed up and disappointed him his love never failed.
3. He loved mother (or grandmother) like Christ loved the church with a sacrificial love that wouldn’t quit.
4. He lived his faith all the time and was the same person wherever or whatever he was doing.
5. He was compassionate toward those who were hurting and would do whatever he could to help a person whether he knew them or not.
6. He was sure of his calling by God and was ready to share the good news of Christ at any time with anyone.
7. He didn’t have a prejudiced bone in his body. His concern was whether or not you were right with God.
We are all leaving a legacy. Instead of following the example of a politician and trying to mold ours in the last days of our service, let’s determine what the legacy is we want to leave and start now with living that kind of life all the time.