Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Forgotten Legacy

My paternal grandmother passed away the same day as Osama bin Laden. I don’t know if there’s any significance in that. Maybe it’s ironic. I doubt the two of them could be any more different from each other. Yet in fifty years people will still be talking about Osama bin Laden and hardly anyone will know anything about Betty Jean Wencl.

That’s one of the things that I think about. Legacy. What we leave for those who follow behind us. Who will remember us and for how long. The first sermon I preached for the English services at our church was on this topic. And I realize that I am very young to even be considering these things.

During my sermon, I asked a series of questions that got increasingly difficult. How many of you know your parents’ names? This one was easy, though I imagine that some people from single-parent families or who’ve gone through divorces may not know.

How many of you know your grandparents’ names? This is more difficult because we’re talking about four people that each member of the congregation may or may not have had any contact with. I had little contact with my paternal grandmother, and my paternal grandfather died almost ten years before I was born. But I knew their names. There was a small drop of hands when I asked this one.

How many of you know your great-grandparents’ names? Now we’re up to eight. In all, I only asked the congregation if they knew 14 people’s names. Only a few in the congregation could. When I asked that those who are into genealogies put their hands down, there were none left.

Is it possible that in just three generations I could be forgotten? And even if I am remembered, would it be anything more than just a name and maybe a date of birth and date of death? What will my children know about their great-grandma?

Life is short, and in just a few intervening years entire lives are forgotten. Love stories are lost. Family tragedies fade into the recesses of time and memory.

In light of this I wonder what kind of influence I can have on the coming generations. On my unborn child. Is my memory doomed to be lost to history unless I become famous (or infamous)? And even if that happens, what good is it if people for generations to come learn facts about me, but never really know me as a real person?

That’s why I’d rather focus on the unseen influence that I can have. I want my children to grow up in a Christian environment where they are presented with a clear message of the gospel. I want them to learn about the world around them and develop meaningful relationships with God, family, friends, and others. In the generations to come my influence will be so diluted as other people and forces act, but if I can leave a true spiritual inheritance, that will be more important to me than if my great-grandchildren remember my name.

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children…” Proverbs 13:22, ESV

Photo from the David Crowder Band music video SMS [Shine].

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