A lot of hype among the world’s great names these days revolves around the idea of bequeathing an enduring legacy of accomplishment. We all use the incredible treasure of life in different ways, but to leave a legacy worth passing on, we must invest our time on earth, rather than merely spend it.
When I measure some of our former presidents or football stars against a 101-year-old missionary I knew as Uncle George, I can’t help but think our hero worship is often misplaced. After damaging his knees in the 1926-27 football season ?, he ministered in Chile for 69 years. He planted three churches…after retirement! His patient love for his wife, left deaf and childless following meningitis as a newlywed, shone like a beacon. His example has inspired me more than any politician or quarterback. Now that’s how to leave a legacy.
Or, instead of the pop music icon whose ex-mansion just sold at a 60% discount, I could tell you about Aunt Helen, who worked as a “Rosie the Riveter” during the early years of World War II. Then she joined the Navy, assisted a chaplain, and sang regularly on the radio for the troops overseas.
Later, Helen poured her energies into teaching young women and children and cooking her specialty Mexican burritos for the many hungry visitors in the many homes she and her husband occupied as they shared Jesus throughout South America. Now in her late 90’s, Helen’s infectious laughter and remarkable stories still keep parties lively in the village where she lives. That’s how to leave a legacy.
So, will we invest or just spend our lives? Minutes, hours, and days make up our years—rooms in the “house of life” we build—“rooms…filled with rare and beautiful treasures” (Prov. 24:4). Here are three of my old friends’ tips on how to fill the rooms of our lives with treasures:
Focus on People
Our main job in this world is to form relationships with others and feed them by prioritizing and treasuring them. Sadly, we often pursue only the friends who bless and benefit us. If only we could each say to the another, like the Apostle Paul, “What I want is not your possessions, but you…” (2 Cor. 12:14).
Which is not to say that we don’t consider ROI—return on investment. But the ROI isn’t always immediate. The lullabies sung to an infant grandson, the hours passed reading picture books and mopping up messes, the dozens of cookies baked…are all long-term investments. Legacy is people, and people take time to grow.
Dear sister, legacy isn’t about saving the world or winning the Nobel Prize. It is about using whatever resources we have at our discretion—and God’s direction—to make a difference in the world and for the next generation. It’s seldom programs and peace initiatives. Sometimes it’s as simple as willingness to become an “adopted” Mom or Auntie to someone, as Helen did for me.
Find your Place
Not necessarily a physical location, but a niche where you feel at home. Sometimes we spread ourselves too thin and sink our time into things we’re not good at or that aren’t worth our while. But the best legacies emerge from a concentrated, not scattered, vision.
For example, Uncle George spent many years “stuck” in mission administration and public relations. He was a genius at it, and who is to say God didn’t fully use him in that arena? But he himself would insist that his best years came after official retirement—to the Atacama Desert. He had dreamed of this all his life, a place some might view as a barren wasteland. Thank God, the accounting is not until the end.
Like me, some of you have many interests and loves, which give us a gorgeous mosaic view of the world. But “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21) What a disappointment if we should arrive at the end of a career only to realize we’ve just been punching a timecard, spinning our wheels. To influence effectively, we must fully be where we are, live in the time zone, with our feet firmly planted on the ground.
Aim to leave a legacy in the area of your strength. Don’t keep digging where there is no gold. Invest where there’s value, where your heart truly lies.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” –Steve Jobs
Fuel your Passion
Because creativity must be nurtured. And to leave a legacy, it must first be built. Please don’t waste energy pouring yourself out for what is meaningless to you. Find your treasure and invest everything.
On the other hand, we don’t need to worry whether our legacy holds earth-shaking transcendence. Let it matter to yourself and to God. We often have no clue—this side of heaven—how God may transform our little pile of stones into gold nuggets. But when we pursue the path God leads us to follow, we discover the satisfaction of a life lived with joy and enthusiasm. My legacy from Aunt Helen is a barrel full of belly laughs, and it’s a rare treasure worth a fortune!
So…what do I plan to leave as my legacy? A life spent on me…or a life invested in the Kingdom of God and people, the only things that will last? I haven’t much money or great successes to pass on. Not many possessions, achievements, or awards. But I can say like the Apostle Peter, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you” (Acts 3:6).
And if I take Paul’s attitude that “…I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well…” (2 Cor. 12:15), then surely the ROI of my legacy will skyrocket—right out of this world.