The hot topic among the extremely wealthy in America lately seems to be their declaration that they are not going to leave a large inheritance to their children. They say they want their children to learn to work hard and earn their way in life. One older rock star even said crudely that he and his wife are spending their own fortune as fast as they can - so they don't leave much to their children. Other billionaire types (like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates) are at least giving much of their wealth away to charities, rather than "burdening" their children with a large inheritance.
All of this news reminds me that the issue of "leaving a legacy" is an important issue as we get older in life. I will be turning 65 in a few weeks, and so I often think about the question: "What legacy I am leaving for the next generations, including my own children and grandchildren?"
A legacy is more than money. It is a legacy of our values, our priorities, and our own personal mission in life. What our kids and grandkids really inherit from us is the witness of our lives, not just our money. I have nothing against leaving an inheritance for my kids and grandkids, and I hope to do so. My kids already have a good work ethic which will not be damaged by receiving an inheritance from me someday. What concerns me much more than money is the question of "legacy" – what kind of legacy am I leaving?
Our legacy is our lifetime of behavior, attitudes, lessons, and lifestyle that our kids and grandkids see and either want to emulate or to avoid. How many times have I heard young adults say, sadly, that they intend to grow up and be different from the bad example they have seen from their own parents? Fortunately, many more times I have heard family and friends at the funeral of a loved one talk about the powerful witness of a "life well-lived" and how much they want to follow in the footsteps of such a person.
No, our legacy is not a pile of money (large or small) we leave behind. Our legacy is our example, and that example is often shared in ways that we don't even intend or expect.
Since Marsha and I have lost all four of our parents in the past five years, we have had several discussions and private thoughts about the legacy that those parents have left for us. In every case, there are positive examples to follow and to model. Many of our best memories are from watching our parents deal with difficult situations, and many more are from simple little actions and behaviors that taught us important lessons for life. No doubt many of those memories would surprise our parents because they were just living their lives without any sense of doing something extraordinary.
So what legacy are we leaving? Perhaps more than we realize it, our every word, action, choice, and attitude is creating a legacy for our kids and grandkids. May our legacy be one that reflects the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."