Do you feel the burden of building a legacy? Throughout history individuals and nations have poured skills and resources into something that would outlive themselves. We have a desire to gift the world and our families something that summarizes our lives.
Some want to leave a trail of wisdom, others want to create wealth and many want to be known as the person who…fill in the blank: displayed kindness, gave generously, served others and the list could go on. All of this striving is for good things that the world and our families need.
The question, ‘How do you want to be remembered?’ reminds us of the natural desire to impact others beyond our short time on earth. We want to live on in the memory of others because we are eternal beings. However, I want to counter with another question, “How would you feel if you weren’t remembered?” When you picture your funeral, are many people in attendance? What if, very few people attended? Would this make you feel as though you did not accomplish enough? You didn’t serve others adequately? Your advice never worked out? Perhaps this means you did not achieve your life’s purpose?
Our world gives us many examples of individuals who created amazing legacies. We hold them up as examples of people who obtained their life’s purpose. Indeed, spiritual legacies abound in the Christian faith just as they do in the secular world. How can I ever evangelize like Billy Graham? Or how can I inspire like Martin Luther King Jr? How can I forgive like Immaculee Ilibagiza? To produce similar feats as these spiritual giants feels like an impossible task. Similarly, many people feel the same burden.
Humans all over clamor for leadership, try to use money as a way to wield power or hoard knowledge and data to build superior systems. Christians can fall into the same trap, yet we spiritualize it to make it seem acceptable and good. We quote verses hoping to gain attention and influence. Or we might evangelize just to show to show off our apologetics skills. Sometimes we try to read the plethora of Christian books to appear smart during small group. We pair these good actions with awry motivations to soothe the worry that we will never make an impact.
I understand not all good actions are tied to erroneous desires. Even if they are, God’s greatness can use our actions despite our internal catalysts. However, I mention this because those motivations impact us. They affect our internal thinking and our relationship with God. Others will most likely never know your internal motives, but it still matters because you know and God knows and that relationship is the most important one in your life. When we view actions as bricks to build a legacy we can be proud of, those same bricks build our burden.
Contrastingly, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Don’t make your spiritual legacy about you, give your burden to Jesus and make it about Him. Furthermore, we can escape the anxiety ridden trap of trying to make our legacy about our name. If your small group never ends the time together by saying “[insert your name] is such an amazing Christian,” you’ve done it right! We are not here to bring glory to ourselves, rather to bring glory to God.
I once heard the advice, “if you want to build a spiritual legacy – volunteer in kids church! Everyone remembers their teachers.” Admittedly, the statement rings true. Most people remember their teachers, from school and church. However, many children who grow up in the church actually leave. As a Sunday school teacher, is it better for a child to remember you or the Savior? One of my favorite pastors gives the example of salt. We are the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13). No one salts their corn on the cob, takes a bite and declares, “This is the most amazing salt.” Rather, ask, “Who grew this delicious sweet corn?” I would go further to say, if the salt is tasted more than the food it is on, the meal is ruined. Yet, if the salt does not add to the meal, it does not have a purpose and should be thrown out.
As usual, the Bible calls us to live a difficult intermediate. Christians must act Christ-like to all those around us, however, we can never save them nor provide a long term solution to their needs. Instead, all of the grace we extend might fade into the background, forgotten, or perhaps never even noticed, as the person finds the wealth of grace in Christ Himself
In this way we can identify with Christ. How often has His forgiveness and goodness been overlooked or taken for granted? Have I always been thankful for the grace given to me? Do I extend that same grace to others without expecting something in return? Who is the worst culprit — myself. Which leads to the question, is forgotten grace still worth giving?
Bringing this down to a practical level — do we want to love our neighbors when it goes completely unnoticed? Are we willing to visit the elderly with dementia when they will not remember and cannot understand the time it took to come? Can we actively listen to another person so they can externally process, even if they haven’t listened to us? Will we teach Sunday School even when all the kids care about is snack? Do we spend hours praying for our non-Christian friends knowing they might never come to Christ? I sincerely hope we all understand the amount of prayer that other people dedicated to us, without our knowledge, in Heaven.
Who knows how long our lives will be remembered on earth, however, our lasting spiritual legacy lives in Heaven. Unnoticed love is not irrelevant. God sees what others cannot. Just as the Creator weaved your life together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139), He will weave our collective lives together into an intricate masterpiece we will never understand in this life.
Some will sow and others will reap. We might not understand the reason behind our role, but God is at work. Let us trust Him with our legacy and one day we will join together and say, “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord!” (Revelation 15:3). In Heaven, His works are the focus, not ours. Let that bring relief to an anxious heart. The burden of building a legacy is gone and the joy of building His kingdom has come.
Attitude for Legacy
It is easy to recognize where our motives are wrong. If you find yourself in that place, consider this prayer:
Dear Father, give me strength to continue sharing your love. I cannot see the results, but I trust Your plan and process. Your perfect timing is more important than my impatient heart, help me learn this lesson. Thank you for not giving on me. Thank you for seeing me, for understanding my heart. Spend my life any way You please, whether great things or small. Take my pride and give me Your heart to love others. Open my eyes to the ways You are already working around me.