The question came up in a recent sermon at my church, “Do you want to leave a trace, basically some small amount of evidence that you were here on Earth, or would you rather leave a legacy.” I immediately thought, A legacy of course. I’d much rather leave a legacy. That would be great, but how do I do that? I’ve left plenty of “traces” of my existence.Some of them were horrible. Things I wish I could erase from my memory. Some I wish could be “pardoned” or “expunged.” But nope, they’re permanent. Indelible. Dirty deeds. Horrific statements. Betrayal. Lies. Bad lapses in judgment. Unfortunately, some of the traces I’ve left are things I am afraid will overpower the good.
Legacy: What It Means and Why It’s Important
The word legacy is generally used to describe property that we leave to our heirs when we die. But every human being also leaves behind a non-material legacy. One that’s harder to define, but often far more important. This type of legacy comprises a lifetime of relationships, accomplishments, truths, and values, and it lives on in those whose lives we’ve touch. The dictionary defines legacy as a gift or a bequest, that is handed down, endowed or conveyed from one person to another. It is something one comes into possession of that is transmitted, inherited or received from a predecessor. It is to cause or allow something originating from an ancestral or prior generational source to spread between people, or provide something freely and naturally.
I encourage you to think about the kind of legacy you want to be remembered for. Knowing how you want to be remembered helps you decide how to live and work today. I’d like to leave a legacy of excellence. In order for me to do so, it is important that I strive every day to be like Jesus Christ. That I remember the dozens of negative actions I undertook as a teenager, and even later in my life, are no longer who I am. This is paramount to being able to attain even the slightest degree of excellence. When we cease trying to good all by ourself, and instead try to be more like Christ, we inspire excellence in others. This can be accomplished in many ways. Whether you like it or not, you serve as a role model for your children, your friends and your colleagues. People are always watching us. Especially non-believers. If we’re successful and happy, and if we give off a good vibe in our pursuit of excellence, that tends to raise the standards and behaviors of everyone around us. Our new life in Christ is our greatest legacy.
It’s quite simple, really. The way we behave around others can lift them up or bring them down. The Bible instructs us to edify one another. The Greek word for edification in the New Testament is oikodomeo, which translates literally as “to build a house.” The word appears in the King James Bible only about 20 times, and then only in the New Testament. It is translated into phrases such as “building up” in more modern translations. Interestingly, its usage is also found in Paul’s letters. The dictionary definition of edify is “to instruct and improve, especially in moral and religious knowledge.” According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, the word indicates promotion of “spiritual growth and development of character of believers, by teaching or by example, suggesting such spiritual progress as the result of patient labor.”
Vine’s definition captures the meaning rather well. Edification is more than just encouragement; it includes any activity that results in more Christlike behavior, either in oneself or in another. Edification may be individual or corporate. Individually, we can edify ourselves by participating in the various spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, worship, etc).
Another component of leaving a lasting legacy is encouragement. Lifting people up rather than putting them down. Twenty years from now when people bring up your name, what do you want them to remember? The way you encouraged them in times of trouble, or how you discouraged them with comments like “it will never work?” You can be that person that someone will call five, ten or twenty years from now and say “Thank you, I couldn’t have done it without you.”
It is also important that we have a sense of purpose in life. People are most energized when they are using their strengths and talents for a purpose beyond themselves. In order to leave a legacy of purpose, you have to make your life about something bigger than you. Although it’s true we are not going to live forever in our earthly bodies, we will live on through the legacy we leave and the positive impact we make on the world. It’s been said that we should be motivated to leave this world in better shape than the way we found it.
Love is a very big part of leaving a lasting legacy. Literally nothing of value can be accomplished unless it is done with a heart full of love. Love is obviously the opposite of self-centeredness. I often think about my ex-wife Gisela, who moved out of the country shortly after we got divorced. When I think about her, I don’t recall her faults, or mistakes, or the disagreements we had. After all, who is perfect? But what I remember most about her was her love for me. She genuinely loved me. (Well, she was my high school sweetheart, and she gave me my first child.) The legacy of love Gisela left me I am now able to share with others. Sharing a legacy of love has the capacity to embrace generations to come.
Legacy creates unity consciousness. It is not an entity, but an ongoing activity, and it is what you do between here and eternity. The lens of legacy gives you a view of your life from a generational perspective, where you become aware of the desire to live beyond yourself, focusing instead on making a difference in the lives of others.
For both young and old, the power of legacy enables us to live fully on in the future. You become aware that you are part of a larger community, a community that must remember its history in order to build its future. This is caring combined with conscience. There is wisdom to be found in each other – linking action and reflection to deal with complex problems. And there is victory to be found in Christ.
Legacy is very much about life and living.