You and I stand on the threshold of a new year—whether it’s a calendar year, a fiscal year, or simply the next 365 days from today. You may be looking ahead: making resolutions, dreaming bigger dreams, or hoping for the best.
I want to challenge you to do something different.
Jump ahead to the 366th day from today. What do you want to see then, looking back? What legacy will you have left?
This past season of gift-giving imprinted my memory with pictures of some people who laid down beautiful legacies.
One was a man who stopped in to the pregnancy center where I work. On his arm were 5 purses. He and his family had filled these oversized purses with the kinds of things a woman might need if she were suddenly forced to leave (or flee) her home. From BandAids to lip balm, pen and paper to scarf and gloves, they had thought of everything.
Such gifts, it turns out, are his family’s legacy. Every year, they create similarly thoughtful gifts for a local charity—instead of giving gifts to each other.
I don’t know about you, but I find that legacy inspiring.
A Legacy isn’t Left in a Day
We can’t wait to begin leaving our legacy. Our neighbor Maynard taught us this.
My husband and I recently hosted our Second Annual Neighborhood Christmas Party. People came from miles around—because in our neck of the woods, that’s the distance between neighbors. This year, Maynard came. A widower in his eighties, Maynard was the first to arrive and the last to leave. Spending time chatting one-on-one with him provided delightful bookends to our evening. We looked forward to getting to know him better in the months ahead.
But Maynard died about a week later. When my husband attended his funeral, he got to listen to the loving letters Maynard had written for his daughters. They were sweetly consistent with the warmth and friendliness Maynard left behind in our home a week before. He left his family—and his neighbors—a legacy.
This Year, Begin with the End in Mind
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
— attributed to Pericles
Just how does a person prepare to leave a legacy that weaves beauty into other lives?
“The problem is that most of us are so caught up in our moment-to-moment activities, we don’t stop to ask ourselves, Where is all this going? How is it going to end if I stick to this same path?” write Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy in their book, Living Forward.
Their solution? Imagine you’re at your own funeral. Write out the eulogy you would want to hear read.
In other words, we need to pick a destination for our lives. If we pick a destination for our next vacation, shouldn’t we know where we want our lives to end up?
Now is our chance. We’re still alive. Today we can still influence the answer to the question, “How will I be remembered?”
Live Toward Your Legacy
Once we can see that desired destination—the legacy we want to leave—we can begin to live toward that end.
One of my friends, a successful artist, recently decided to leave her isolated life in the studio. She is seeking new work that will allow her to interact with people who need the hope she has found in Jesus Christ. Because, like me, that’s the legacy she wants to leave. Though she seemed to feel a little sheepish about making such a significant career change, I found it perfectly natural. (Of course, I’m a career-changer myself.)
Why is it natural? Because human beings keep growing and changing. According to this article by Dr. Thomas Armstrong, we progress through twelve different stages of life. And each stage is valuable. Each stage gives a different gift to the world around us.
In our current stage, with our children raised (our earlier legacy), my friend and I are seeing our priorities shift. Now our focus is on leaving a new kind of legacy—living lives that will bless others beyond our families, even after our deaths.
Let Your Limits Inspire You
Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder who faced his own death in 2011, said, “All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
Perhaps this is why the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.”
A man dancing blindfolded near a cliff is a fool. And so, too, are we when we live as if death is not just a stone’s throw away. But by making careful note of the boundary which death imposes on his life, a man tears the blindfold away. He is free to dance boldly through all the days he is given. And he has a reason to dance now.
So rip off your blindfold this year. Live today boldly, building toward the legacy you want to leave.
“Your life now shapes your legacy then,” say Hyatt and Harkavy. “You have an impact on everyone around you… In other words, your life matters.”
As you step into the new year, what do you want your life to matter for?
Are you bold enough to share your envisioned legacy in the comments below?
I’d love to hear where you’re headed.