Leave a Legacy or Live a Legacy?

Leave a Legacy or Live a Legacy?

by Bill High

Leave a legacy. I know I use that term and I’ve seen it used a lot by others as well. But I wonder if it’s something we should shelve and put in the closet.

Why do I say that?

“Leave a legacy” too often gets linked just with the idea of estate planning. And to be honest, not many people get too excited about the idea of estate planning—except the estate planning lawyers.

But I also think this reinforces our tendency to tie “leaving a legacy” to the idea of leaving something behind. And with that idea perhaps it’s too easy to think, “After I’m gone, what does it matter? I’ll let everyone else figure it out.”

It’s true we will all leave something behind—good or bad. However, the idea of leaving something behind also sounds as if it’s unintentional. After all, I’m never happy to discover I’ve left my cell phone or my wallet behind.

So I’ve wondered if the better phrase isn’t “live a legacy.” That phrase better captures the idea of being intentional about the legacy we create by the way we live.

I think it also captures the idea of the future. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said something profound that relates to this aspect of legacy:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

We naturally tend to focus on what we will leave behind us. Perhaps we imagine what our obituaries will say about us. Or we think of the loved ones we’ll leave behind. What will they say about us? What memories will they have of us?

However, I think we forget that so often by the time the next generation or two comes along, they have little memory of us. The true impact of our lives shows up in their values—how they live their lives.


A Forward-Looking Legacy

Life must be lived forward. And I think “live a legacy” gets at the idea of living now with the long-term in view.

Legacy is what we put in motion for the future. Do we instill in our children and grandchildren a set of values they can live by and, in turn, build into future generations? What stories do we pass on that can be shared from one generation to the next? Do we pass on traditions, rituals and rhythms that still carry on?

I love the idea of some future generation still gathering together, still singing the song of the previous generations. Perhaps they don’t know where it came from, but they still believe it.

What is the song you wish they’ll sing forward?

As people of faith, we look forward to the long tomorrow, the reunion of saints, and the final gathering again of loved ones. We want to live a meaningful life because eternity is a long time.

Are you living the legacy you want to see lived out in the next generations?



Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

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Published September 9, 2020

Topics: Family Legacy

FaithFamily LegacyGenerationsLegacyValues

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