It is natural to think about one’s legacy. In some ways I think about it more as I am oftentimes surrounded by mortality. Funerals are a common aspect of my ministry. In these moments, a person’s legacy is front and center. The family is confronted with the task of summarizing a person’s life accomplishments in a few sentences to be shared during the service. It is natural for people to list the usual descriptors, e.g. job achievements and awards. Yet, more often than not, legacy is framed in terms of character and relationships. Almost always the bulk of a funeral comprises meaningful connections made over the years.
Since this is true, it is best for us to change how we build a legacy.
To do so we need to understand what a legacy is not. It is not a momentary accomplishment such as an award or recognition – a spotlight moment. It is not a job that you have enjoyed for years only to see it handed over to someone else. Occupations after all are expendable. A legacy is not an inheritance that you pass on to your children. I have yet to see someone stand in a funeral praising their mom or dad for the estate. Granted, it would be fairly tacky to do so.
Rather, a person’s legacy is always framed by the impact they have had on another person, as a relative or a friend. Therefore, it is best we begin investing in such relationships.
Genuine legacies are not built in a day. They cannot be created at the end of one’s life. It necessitates daily, conscious decisions to pour into another person. This is where the rubber meets the road. It involves waking up and taking time to listen and care for those closest to you. It requires constant gestures of encouragement and service to lift another person up. Genuine legacies are defined by those moments when you have to decide whether or not to stop and help a person even though you are not in the mood. Because even in those anonymous acts, character is formed that frames all other relationships. The same is true for those times when you are slighted and have to decide whether to retaliate or not. For a graceful response elevates the soul that in turn grounds our character.
You see, genuine legacies do not magically appear as one nears the end of life. They are cultivated through years of decision-making made in the moment, whether seen or unseen, in times of frustration and joy. Genuine legacies are a commentary on one’s life which requires investment throughout one’s life. For me this is a challenge. It involves choosing to live today as I would want to be known for in the future. But it also gives me hope because it means I have the opportunity to enjoy the lasting stability of meaningful relationships with those dearest to me.