Leaving a Legacy

Pastor Abraham Johnson

Abraham Johnson

My favorite definition of what a spiritual legacy is comes from writer Daniel Taylor: a spiritual legacy is an offering of wisdom from one life to another. By ‘wisdom’, of course, we are not talking about a person’s IQ or intelligence, or their ability to take an exam.  Wisdom is knowledge about how to live well in our world.  Wisdom is the proper calibration of our thinking, our values, our decision making, and our actions.  Most people agree that meaningful, love-filled relationships are more important than money or career.  But it is the wise person who can actually shape a life around meaningful relationships.

Taylor goes on to highlight three things about the above definition.  I find them quite helpful when thinking about leaving a legacy.  First, this definition suggests that leaving a spiritual legacy is not coercion.  It cannot be insisted upon.  Nor is the reception of a legacy automatic.  Legacy is offered.  It is presented as a gift from one life to another. Second, when we understand legacy as something we offer, we understand that we do not offer it up to all of humankind in general.  No, we offer our legacy to a specific someone that we deem to be of immense value.  And, in doing so, we ultimately present this wisdom to another as an offering to God, for God to ultimately use. Finally, when we understand legacy as wisdom that we offer, we are compelled to take responsibility for it.  The question for us is not whether we will leave a legacy.  The question is, what kind of legacy will we leave?  And, to whom do we want to leave it?

So how do we go about offering a legacy with intention?  There are lots of ways to do it.  Here are just five suggestions:

Document your life in concrete ways.

When attempting to document your life wisdom, the important thing is to be intentional. The form, whether it be a letter or a video of some type, is not as important as the life wisdom that is being offered to another person.  Life wisdom can be communicated through a series of letters or video footage.  Perhaps an interview is conducted where you answer questions about your life story, the values you live by, and the faith that has guided you.  The format is not as important as being intentional.  Be clear.  What values are important to you?  What difference has faith made in your life?  The answers to questions like these will be a reservoir of wisdom for others.  So document them.  Then they can be referred to again and again by others.

Tell stories that communicate your life wisdom.

Don’t worry if you’ve told the story a thousand times.  Groucho Marx once said, “If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.”  Stories have the power to communicate values, hopes, fears, faith, you name it.  So the stories you tell don’t necessarily need to be about you, or come from your own life (but tell those ones too!).  What these stories must do, however, is communicate your values, your faith, your wisdom.  In this way the stories you tell becomes vehicles that transfer your wisdom into the life of another.

Take advantage of sacred space.

As a pastor, I have the tremendous honor of sitting with grieving families when they mourn the loss of a loved one.  It is common in these settings for family and friends to talk about sacred places.  I hear about the family cabin, the ball park, a state park, hunting trips, or their church.  These are the places that have become sacred for them.  These are the places where memories were made, and relationships were deepened.  They were the places where conversations went into the night, and legacies were offered.  Where are the sacred places of your life?  And when you are there, what can you offer?

Take advantage of sacred time.

The concept here is very similar to that of sacred space.  The question being How can I use this time/space to offer parts of my legacy to others.  Weddings, funerals, Christmas, Thanksgiving, spiritual retreats, these are all times that are unique and sacred.  They can be powerful moments to give a letter or formally tell a story.

Give meaningful gifts that communicate your values and your story

An old pair of my father-in-law’s work shoes sits in my office.  They were given to me the day that my wife and I were married.  My father-in-law wore them to work to support his family.  He gave them to me and my wife on our wedding day in support of the new future the two of us were building together.  Next to these shoes is a trophy given to me by my own father.  On this trophy is a plaque that reads: Keep on Running. Never stop! I was a runner in high school, and this trophy was my father’s way of telling me to follow my dreams like I would run a race.  Gifts like this stand as testaments to the values and stories that are passed from one life to another.

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