Legacy that Lasts
Words by Grace Jones
Lately, I’ve been keenly feeling a desire to be remembered. There’s a longing in my heart that is desperately seeking to do something worthwhile in my life. Something that will make a difference. Something that will last. I’ve been wrestling over which direction to take for a while now: Paid work? Motherhood? Travel? Do what? For how long? To what end? These questions have been plaguing me day and night. I don't know what it is I should be doing, all I know is that it needs to be great. Significant. Memorable.
If you’re anything like me, you may be feeling a little dismayed by the less-than-glamorous realities of everyday life. Perhaps you’ve found yourself bogged down in the small but necessary duties of an average Wednesday. Filing paperwork in an office. Making school lunches. Regardless of your efforts, the work is never done. And, if you’re honest with yourself, it really doesn't amount to much. Sure, there are immediate effects of you doing whatever it is that you do—obviously the children need feeding—but when you step back and look at the big picture, you despair of what little impact your efforts really have on the world. Even just your world. Who wants to be remembered at their funeral for their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?! You’d be right in thinking that, in the long run, none of it matters.
But God is slowly teaching me that it’s the little moments in life, the seemingly inconsequential moments here and there, that are the building blocks of a legacy. In my wrestling to “become” something or someone, he has caused me to slow down and to see value in the small things. That is, after all, where we find most of our existence. Sure, there are a few times in our lives when we do big things, make significant decisions, or experience grand and exciting life events. But those more memorable milestones aren’t the places where we really leave a mark. I’m discovering that legacy is more subtle than that. And it’s built in countless, often quickly forgotten, ethereal moments of life.
There’s nothing all that glamorous or remarkable about the women in my family. We tend to have dark hair, pear-shaped bodies and legs covered in varicose veins. But there is no one who has made quite as significant an impact on my own values, faith, and personhood as my mother. And, by extension, her mother. Sure, there are others in the world that have led more interesting lives and done more notable and impressive things. And I’m not saying that we should not be pursuing greatness in the name of God. We should be. But legacy isn’t about how great our minds are or how remarkable our actions. It’s not about being celebrated or remembered by future generations for our impressive contributions to humanity. It’s about leaving an indelible impression on those around us. A unique, unmistakably Christ-like mark on the lives that are carefully and divinely interwoven with ours, both now and in the future.
This may mean, for you, doing something extravagant. It may mean you take risks and venture bravely into the unknown. If you think that’s where God is calling you, then go for it! Perhaps God will use your remarkable experience or achievement or talent for a purpose all his own. But I am slowly learning that, more often than not, God prefers to use our ordinary Wednesdays, rather than our most significant milestones, as the building blocks of a legacy.
My mother has taught me many things. Some through explicit, intentional instruction, and some she has taught me quietly, by example in how she has lived. She’s shown me that few things are as special as a couple of good girlfriends, that swims in ocean pools cleanse the soul, that creating family traditions is a valuable thing to do. She’s instilled in me a love of vanilla milkshakes, an ability to see things for what they could be, a knack for finding a good bargain. But more than this, she has shown me what it is to love others self sacrificially and to live as a follower of Jesus. She has modeled Christ-likeness to me and her legacy lives on in me: a Christian believer myself. Her legacy is extended through me as I model Christian discipleship to others.
So, if our lives do make a difference in the world, and how we go about living them does have the potential to significantly impact those around us, what then shall we do? What legacy should we be creating?
Peter, an apostle of Jesus, knew the answer to this question and invested his time into making disciples and growing others around him. His letters to various churches in several different provinces, display his passion for building sturdy, mature Christians. In 1 and 2 Peter, he writes to teach, remind, encourage, rebuke, and spur on Christians in the early church. He dedicated his life to doing this and was striving to leave behind him a legacy of Christ-minded followers.
“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.” (2 Peter 1:12–15)
It’s clear that Peter was passionate about the people around him confidently holding to gospel truths. He knew his life on earth was temporary and wasted no energy investing his time in things of little consequence. Instead, he taught and reminded others of the saving grace of Jesus, vigorously seeking to leave behind solid and sturdy Christians who would hold firmly to the gospel and live their lives in response to that good news. Did he know that thousands of years later, people from all around the world would read his letters and consider them to be the words of God? I highly doubt it. Was he aware that the creator of the universe was using his penmanship to communicate to generations and generations of future Christians? It’s unlikely. But that’s the beautiful thing: It was God at work all along. Peter simply knew what his time on earth was really about, and devoted himself to investing in that, allowing God to take care of the rest.
We shouldn't underestimate the power of our actions when they are in line with God’s will for our lives. Many spend their lives trying to build a name for themselves, hoping to be remembered or even revered for their achievements. Most fail. Their legacies survive a generation or two and then evaporate. But legacy isn’t about building a name for ourselves, it's about making his name known. When we are striving to build others up in Christ, to plant seeds and see God’s harvest grow into a strong and healthy crop of loving, selfless, God-fearing Christians, then we can be assured that our efforts will not have been in vain. For who knows how God will use them both now during our lifetime and then in the years beyond?
And regardless of what happens, we know we are a part of an even grander legacy: the legacy of our maker and sustainer who, in his own perfect timing, saw fit to speak our world into existence, to breathe life into our souls, and to restore to himself broken people made new. One day we will revel in the glory and magnitude and breathtaking beauty of all that he is, so we need not wrestle to make something great for ourselves. For if we commit our lives to him, he will be at work doing great things in us. Even on Wednesdays.