Three guys are in a car accident and find themselves at the Pearly Gates, waiting in line to get into Heaven. As they begin to come to terms with where they are, they have a little chat about what they hope people will say about them at their funerals.
The first guy says, “I hope that they say, ‘He was a great doctor who helped so many people.’ I want that to be my legacy.”
The second guy says, “I hope they say, ‘He was an amazing teacher who touched the lives of so many children.’ I want that to be my legacy.”
The third guy says, “I hope they say, ‘Look! He’s moving!’”
But, we do think about it sometimes, don’t we? What our legacy is going to be? We think about what kind of impact we’re making. We wonder if we’re leaving anything at all for people to remember us by. Sometimes we really lament the fact that we haven’t done something bigger with our time on earth.
But, the truth is that most people don’t leave a grand legacy that’s based on one great deed or one incredible act one large sum of money. Legacy is really built one tiny decision at a time. One sentence at a time. One non-Earth-shattering moment at a time.
We are all building one, each and every day, with our words and our actions and our attitudes.
Building a legacy is a bunch of small ways to make a big impact.
I almost think of legacy as the breadcrumbs that Hansel and Gretel dropped. They were heading into the forest, and they wanted to be sure they knew what their path was. And, we do something similar with our legacy. As we live this life, we leave little bits of ourselves behind.
A positive attitude.
An encouraging word.
And, pretty soon, our children can look back on the path that we’ve created, and they can see the way that they need to go.
But, we don’t always leave the best of ourselves when we’re dropping those breadcrumbs through life, do we? Sometimes the path that we leave leads to danger, to heartache, an unfulfilled heart and a broken spirit. Sometimes we wake up one day and realize that our legacy looks nothing like we planned for it to. It looks bitter. It looks dark. It looks like nothing that we want our children or grandchildren to follow.
But, this is the great beauty and blessing in legacy building. Our legacy can turn on a dime. Just like that.
Years ago when Chad and I were younger and not too smart, I wrote a note to him in church about our music minister. You see, he would sometimes get red-faced and frustrated during musical performances. (And, who could blame him? He was a perfectionist dealing with amateur musicians, including Chad!) He had gotten a little worked up during the music that morning, and I wrote Chad a rude little note, declaring that the man shouldn’t be up there if he couldn’t do better. (I hope I have matured some since that time.) Well, Chad read the note, stuck it in his Bible, and we went on with life.
A few days later, I found out that the nasty little note I had written had fallen out of Chad’s Bible, and someone found it and took it directly to the music minister. It was quite obvious who had written it. Imagine my horror at having to walk up to this man and apologize for writing this terrible note about him during church. But, do you know what he did? He smiled. He genuinely smiled. He patted my shoulder, and he told me that everything was fine. And, you know what? Ever after that, everything really was fine. He really did forgive me. And, in an instant, as far as I was concerned, his legacy was changed forever. He taught me how to love and forgive. And, I won’t ever forget that lesson.
One small act. One breadcrumb. And, for me, his legacy will forever be love.
So, if we sit here today unsatisfied with the direction that our legacy leads, today is a good day to change the course. One small deed at a time.
Now, we can’t forget that in Hansel and Gretel’s story a really unfortunate thing happened. The birds came and ate up all of their breadcrumbs! The path that they had been careful to lay out was destroyed in just a few minutes.
This reminds us of the importance of creating a legacy that lasts.
You know, the traditional definition of the word “legacy” is about money. It’s about leaving material things to your family when you die. But, a lasting legacy has nothing to do with money or houses or cars or boats. It’s about the impact you make in people’s lives (those important little decisions, those breadcrumbs).
John Maxwell probably said it best when he said that there’s a difference in leaving a legacy FOR others and leaving a legacy IN others.
We need to think about what really matters to us in this life. What do we really want to instill in our loved ones? And, we need to think about the fact that what we do with our time here has eternal consequences. We want to leave more than money. More than bad habits. More than funny stories. We want to leave a legacy that leads people to love, faith, forgiveness, and goodness.
Someone once asked Martin Luther what he would do if he knew he were going to die tomorrow. “I’d go out and plant a tree,” he said. In other words, he would leave a legacy of life that would grow on and on into the future. I’m not suggesting we all run out and plant trees. But, I do hope that we will stop and consider what we are doing today that will leave a legacy of life and hope.