Hi my name is Gary and I am an achievement-aholic. I was weaned by a success-crazed culture and have refined the trend with my goals and projects. We all joke about it, but there is part of us that still believes, “he who dies with the most toys wins.” We are seduced by the illusion that the legacy of our lives will be measured by the cumulative value of the stuff we create-acquire-build-plan-say-do.
What if the true legacy of our lives is something completely different?
A few weeks ago I was in the Chicago area-my old stomping grounds. While there I spent a nearly perfect afternoon at a reunion of old friends for whom I had once been their Youth Pastor. We told stories, we laughed, we gagged over how old our children are, and we caught up on different ways God has been at work in our lives. The fact that these “former kids” are now in their 40’s is more than a little frightening. Their age says more than I’d like to admit about my own.
At one point in the afternoon, I was standing off to the side watching these old friends interact with each other. I couldn’t stop thinking about what quality people they had become. Lost in my thoughts, I failed to notice when another friend came up beside me. He put his arm around me and said, “these ‘kids’ are the legacy of your life-it must make you feel proud.” It does.
I think about all the things that we did together back in the day. The camps, retreats, mission projects, outreach efforts, etc. it was all terrific stuff, but none of it was the stuff that lasts. My legacy is not in all the stuff I have done, it is the people God allows me to do stuff with.
In the 21 years since I moved from that town I have been a privileged man. I have had the chance to lead and serve people in a huge variety of contexts in a number of states and a host of foreign countries. I have created programs, designed curriculums, written books, and spoken at a host of gatherings. It has always felt meaningful. It has usually been challenging. And, while there have been some very forgettable efforts, most of what I have done has had some level of influence.
But the legacy of my life is not in all that activity. It is the people of my life who go on to touch and shape the world beyond my reach.
As a leader I have to remember this lesson. It creates breathing room when I am under pressure. It gives perspective when I feel driven by a big project. It reminds me that the things I do actually create the context in which I get to share my life with someone else. It helps me pull up when I am preoccupied with details and demands, because it reminds me that what really matters in all of this is people.
The imprint of my life lives in the people of my life. The same is true for you. And that is our real legacy.