Before I suggest some practical means from God’s Word concerning leaving a meaningful legacy through your family I want to emphasize a very simple, but important thought. Legacy is a byproduct. It is not the result of our primary focus, but the result of other factors. Certainly, it is normal to be interested in being involved in that which is significant and meaningful. I believe that God has wired us to have an appetite for significance in eternal matters (Ecclesiastes 3:11). One of the deepest and sweetest satisfactions in life is to know that God has impacted your children through your life.
However, a godly legacy should not be our primary motive or objective. In fact, to make that our chief focus can bring the very opposite result. Our focus ought to be on pleasing the Lord and glorifying Him rather than how we perceive our family legacy might be.
One of the problems with being “legacy-focused” rather than “God-focused” is that it tends to appeal to our pride. For example, when our children embarrass us through their failures, making wrong decisions, or being involved in sin it can cause us to react in anger and resentment because they have threatened the “legacy” we have dreamed about for them (and for us, as parents!). Our pride causes our children to react to us and we short circuit the very thing we want to happen – to establish a meaningful, godly legacy. Our focus should not primarily be on our personal legacy – even in our family!
When the focus is on the quality of what we leave behind in our children, again, it is usually rooted in pride. An evidence of this is that we are more concerned about our reputation as parents and how others perceive us than loving our children unconditionally, even in their failures. Also, we will hide our failures as parents lest others think we are not what a “good” Christian family should be. We become harsh with our children in our discipline because we have been shamed – and angry discipline never works (Proverbs 22:8). It imprints upon the heart of a child deep and lasting wounds – bitterness, discouragement, and insecurity. The legacy of this type of parenting is a child that is usually a blight and burden on society (Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21).
At the risk of being redundant, when the focus is on the end (a godly legacy) and not on the means (providing an atmosphere of acceptance while teaching them to obey and love the Lord and people) the desire for a godly legacy through your children will not happen.
My suggestion? Don’t become enamored with leaving a legacy. Rather, take simple, but strategic and intentional steps as you train your children and the end will care for itself.
In my previous blog I wrote: “every person is leaving a legacy in their family…a legacy is inevitable”. The issue is whether it will be one that is meaningful and significant or one that is shameful and destructive.
Often when I officiate weddings I say this to the bride and groom as they stand before me – “At the end of this ceremony you will legally be husband and wife, but you still decide each day that you want to be married. You alone, with God’s help, are responsible for the quality of your marriage. I encourage you at it’s outset to use good ingredients and the good result will not fail you.” That last phrase summarizes what I have been trying to communicate and is at the heart of the issue of leaving a godly legacy in the lives of our children and their children – “use good ingredients and the good result will not fail you”. A meaningful legacy is a byproduct of many small actions that compound over time; the same is true of a legacy that brings pain and regret.
One well-known case study illustrates this point in a powerful way. There were two families and their descendents that were studied during the same era (19th century) in the same part of the country (Northeast) and the results speak for themselves. The two men were named Max Jukes and Jonathan Edwards. Jukes was an ungodly man and Edwards is known as a man of God with one of the finest theological minds in American history and a man of great integrity and character.
Of the 560 descendents of Max Jukes: seven were murderers, sixty became thieves, sixty-seven were reported to have syphilis, 100 were drunkards, and 50% of the women in his family became prostitutes.
From Edwards’ family came 300 preachers, 295 college graduates, 100 missionaries, 100 lawyers, eighty held public office, including one Vice President of the United States, thirteen became US Senators, one became the governor of a state, three became mayors of large cities, seventy-five were military officers, sixty-five became college professors, thirteen were presidents of colleges, and fifty-six became physicians, including one that was the dean of a medical school.
The difference is that one man was indifferent to his legacy and the other was intentional. But the indifference and the intentionality wasn’t so much in the kind of legacy they would have, but in their daily decisions and behaviors and in the neglect or attention to the training of their children.
“There is a choice you have to make
In everything you do.
So keep in mind, that in the end,
The choice you make, makes you”.