The following is written by Jim Moore. Jim is the pastor of the church I attend. We have known each other for 20+ years and share similar beliefs about life, integrity, and religion. Jim will be contributing his thoughts to this book on OVERCOMING LOSS, both from a spiritual perspective as a Pastor and from his experience as a Hospice Chaplain.
When your life story is written, what will be the title of the last chapter? As previously stated, we all have failures in life. We have all experienced heartbreak and loss; we have all been treated unfairly and some of us have been unwitting victims. And if we are honest, we will admit that some of our failures have been of our own undoing. Again, at the risk of repeating myself, these unfortunate experiences become part of our story, but they are not the whole of our story. The last chapter of our story will be determined by how we rebound (or don’t rebound) from those lamentable incidents. I love the quote, ‘when writing the story of your life, don’t let anyone else hold the pen.’ With pen in hand, how do you want the last chapter of your life to read?
You do not have to be a history buff to realize history books only tend to include those whose legacy left a profound impact. In American history we read about those who first landed on American soil and started a new life in a new land. We read about their bravery as they explored the unknown. We also read about those who first landed on the moon showcasing the bravery it takes to test the boundaries of what was once thought impossible.
Throughout history we recount those whose leadership inspired people to persevere when times were dire. History repeatedly reminds us of those who not only dreamed but encouraged others to dream and it chronicles those who fought for what is right in the face of the tremendous odds against them. History also celebrates those whose ingenuity invented new ways of living. Our history books are full of stories about heroes, leaders and inventors who left their mark on humanity.
However, legacy isn’t just reserved for those who succeeded, history also remembers the rogues and the failures. History tells of those whose egos led to defeat and devastation. It never forgets those whose missteps dashed the hopes and dreams of others or those whose intentional falsehoods destroyed the trust of the people. History graphicly details those who damaged, wreaked havoc or showed a complete disregard for the sanctity of life. In other words, history remembers the heroes and the villains. It remembers Abraham Lincoln, but it also remembers John Wilkes Booth. Both of whom left a lasting legacy.
Legacy is what we leave behind when we leave this world. Our legacy is how we will be remembered. We may not be remembered by the entire world, the entire country or even our entire town, but we will be remembered by someone, and likely several someone’s. The manner in which we live our lives has an impact on more people than we probably realize. We will all leave a legacy behind when we die. What will your legacy be?
William James, often referred to as the father of American psychology, once said, ‘The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.’ Our legacy is the part that will outlast us. What do you want your legacy to be? I will remind you that no matter the demands of your life, no matter the stress in your life, no matter the challenges or obstacles in your life, no matter what kind of loss you have experienced in your life – it is still your life. You are still holding the pen. In the midst of all of life’s struggles and pain we continue to be called on to make choices and decisions. Whether in the midst of anguish or in the midst of joy the choices and decisions we make will outlast us.
Well-known business strategist, Peter Strople said it best when he said, ‘legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.’ Our legacy will not likely be dictated by accumulation or accomplishment. It will likely be determined by what we leave in the people closest to us.
In my hospice work, I have visited countless numbers of people who were near the end of life. As I encourage them to share their life story, I will often ask about their greatest joys and their greatest regrets. I will also, if it seems appropriate, ask my elderly patients what advice they have for someone like me. There is a common thread that runs through all of their responses and that thread is relationships. The joys, the regrets and the advice always revolve around relationships.
People’s greatest joys come from the relationships they developed and sustained throughout their lives.
As they reflect back on their lives, people’s greatest regrets are about broken or bruised relationships.
The advice I have received over the years from people who lived a long life was to nurture the relationships in your life.
It sounds cliché but very rarely have any of my patients spent time dwelling on their careers. It doesn’t mean their careers weren’t important to them and it doesn’t mean they didn’t feel great pride in their accomplishments. As people reflect on their careers they often speak with great passion about the ups, downs and defining moments of their work. However, they seldom speak of their careers as legacy defining.
Some of my heroes growing up were ball players. As a kid I emulated my favorite football players, basketball players and baseball players. It became apparent to me at a young age that a professional ball player’s career is relatively brief. For a few years they shine bright and then the light goes out and they disappear from the public’s eye. No longer are they the topic of conversation on sport’s radio and no longer are they donning the cover of sport’s magazines. This hero we rooted for and cheered on took off his uniform never to be heard from again.
Statistically speaking most professional athletes ‘retire’ from their respective sports in their 30’s. That means if they live into their 70’s or 80’s or 90’s, that most of their life will be spent not being a ballplayer. The greats of the game will be remembered for their play on the field or court but the vast majority will either be reduced to an answer to a sports trivia question or be forgotten completely. It is the very few whose legacy is marked by their play on the field. For nearly all of them they will be remembered most by the lives they touched off the field.
One of the aftereffects of a terminal diagnosis is it invites the individual to reflect on the life they have lived. Most of the people I visit have come to a place in life where they understand there are things in life that are ‘important’ and there are things that are ‘more important’.
There are many things in life that are important to us. If ask to do so, we would have no problem listing things in life that are important to us. That list might include job or career, money, classic cars, travel, golf, food, faith, friendship, family, hobbies, and so forth. As you ponder your list know that your legacy will not be defined by what you have decided to be ‘important’, it will likely be determined by what you deem to be ‘more important’ and ultimately even ‘most important’.
In your life you may not consciously be able to delineate ‘important’ from ‘more important’ from ‘most important’. However, as we lay the foundation for our last chapter it is important to identify our priorities so that we can live toward them.
I was told a long time ago, if you want to identify your current priorities in life, then look at your bank statement and look at your calendar. Your bank statement and your calendar are superb barometers for evaluating your priorities. How we spend our money and how we spend our time are usually good indicators of what we have deemed to be most important to us.
Legacy most certainly can include our accomplishments and our failures in life, but our lasting legacy will be determined by something much more important. It will ultimately be determined by the impact our lives had on those closest to us. It will be determined not by what we left for people but by what we left in people.