It is never too early in life to begin thinking about the legacy you want to leave behind when you are gone, whether you're on the brink of graduation, retirement, or somewhere in between.
Certainly questions about legacy arise naturally later in life. What has my work amounted to? Have I accomplished all that there is for me to do? What do I want to be remembered for after I am gone?
If you have not started asking these questions, I encourage you to begin asking them, no matter what your age. It sets the course for our lives if we know where we want to end up and what we want to leave behind.
I'm using an acrostic for the word LEGACY to write about six important things to consider. These have been helpful to me over the years, and I hope they will help you as you think about your legacy as well.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is simple to write, but it is certainly not that easy to carry out day-to-day. How are you loving God today? How do you love your neighbor? Where are you giving sacrificially to others who are in need?
I have been so affected by the recent pictures from the typhoon tragedy in the Philippines. They are heart-wrenching. How can this be happening as we just go on with life? I have to admit I can become calloused and unfazed to natural catastrophes if they don't impact me directly. But I think loving God and loving my neighbor does mean it impacts me. How can I pray for the refugees in Syria, or how do I join in sorrow with the thousands of women who have been raped in Uganda? Where is my heart when it comes to hearing tragic news stories in Denver, the city where I live?
For those of us in ministry, I think we must be equipping those who follow us. Obviously this is discipleship and professional development. Part of our legacy is growing the next generation of world changers and the future leaders of InterVarsity. This is truly one of the reasons I have stayed in ministry for 36 years. What does that look like for you in any given day?
Equipping is helping others grow in their calling. Take a minute and think of one or two people that you are currently helping grow as leaders. Maybe it is a student on your leadership team, maybe it is a person that you supervise, or maybe it is someone outside of InterVarsity who you are coaching. As you think about them, make a list of where they need to grow in order to become better leaders. Warren Bennis writes, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born, that there is a genetic factor to leadership. Myth asserts that people simply either have charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” Part of leaving a legacy is raising up leaders who will follow us. If no one is following us, we need to ask why.
This is two-fold. We continually need to be growing in our understanding of what our God-given gifts are, and we need to help others discover their gifts. Who is helping us discern that? Who is asking hard questions about the way we are using our gifts? Who is helping us understand that maybe we are in the wrong place? How are we helping others make sure they are in the right place?
We are all accountable to God and to others. We really do not act on our own and when we do, we tend to get in trouble. With all my work on Advocacy Councils, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is, “Are they going to tell me what to do?” Interesting! From the fall, human beings have been against accountability, against obeying. It is a part of original sin that we think we are God and we know best. I believe one of the non-negotiables of leaving a legacy is living a life of accountability. We listen to others and ask for help. We do not work in a vacuum but invite others in. We need to have teachable spirits.
This, of course, should be at the center of everything and the motivation for why I love, why I want to equip others, etc. I pray that people will always say I was Christ-centered first. I pray that my theology flows out of my relationship and modeling of Jesus. I want others to remember me as a woman who lived my life in a way that put Christ evidently at the center.
Walking with Christ for years leaves a legacy. I think back to many people who have been my mentors in the faith, those men and women I have watched and modeled myself after and those who discipled me. A vivid picture that stays in my mind almost daily is watching my mother get down on her knees every night to pray. She was not very vocal about her faith. I never remember her saying she “led anyone to the Lord”, but my mom modeled a humble spirit who walked closely with God.
May we all carefully consider these things and, as a result, live lives that point the generations behind us to Jesus Christ, for his ultimate praise and glory.