Does our legacy have to revolve around our children?
We’ve been talking about purpose and clarifying our priorities on the blog this week, and it got me thinking about legacy. What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
Usually when we hear that question, we think about kids. We want to raise our kids to follow God, to have that “unbroken chain” of believers until Jesus comes back again. We want to raise kids to be world changers.
But how do you leave a legacy if you don’t have kids? Do childless couples have legacies?
That’s the question that a reader recently asked me. She wrote:
Hi Sheila! I love your blog, and your articles have blessed my life and marriage more than I could say! Thank you!
I have seen many of your wonderful marriage posts, but when you send out parenting posts, I don’t read them. I had a hysterectomy at 23, just a couple months after getting married, so I am unable to have children. My husband and I do not feel called to adopt, but that begs the question — what now? All I hear is how people do things for their children, leave a legacy for their kids; but while living in the corporate culture of today, it seems increasingly difficult to leave any kind of lasting legacy. Nearly everything in the Christian life seems to circle back to family, but my only family within 1000 miles is my husband. We both have painful amounts of social anxiety, so volunteering at church is the most I’m able to get him to do (and if I’m being honest, that’s usually okay with me, even if I feel like we should be doing more). How do you leave a legacy with no family to leave it?
That’s a great question, and I want to answer it with a story.
About 12 years ago, when Rebecca was 11 and Katie was 8, Christmas came and we had some money left over. Keith and I decided that we would take that and make a special end of year donation. We had these “gift catalogues” where you could give money to Third World countries, and one was from Partners International. We flipped through it, looking for a gift that was roughly the amount we had decided to give. We found one where you could drill a well for a village in Liberia, giving the people access to clean water. That sounded good, so we mailed in the cheque, and promptly forgot about it.
Eleven months later, in November, I received a phone call from Partners.
They said there was a bishop from Liberia visiting Canada, and he wanted to meet with me. I was trying to be polite on the phone, but I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Why did a Liberian bishop want to meet with me? And where was Liberia, anyway?
As the conversation went on, my brain finally twigged to that gift we had given the preceding Christmas. So we made arrangements to meet at Christian Chicken (that’s what Canadians call Swiss Chalet), and one Tuesday, when my husband was free for lunch, the four of us met the Partners rep and the bishop from Liberia.
Over lunch, the bishop explained to us that Liberia had been in a civil war for almost two decades. During the time, many people fled to live in the forests. Infrastructure was non-existent. Everybody was so poor. And so they came into this one village with the equipment to dig a well. The whole village participated and was so excited. He explained that usually, by this time in the year, six children would have died of dysentery. But that year, not one child had died.
I looked over at Rebecca, and tears were streaming down her face.
Then he said that after they built the well, they had a dedication ceremony, where he explained to people,
There’s a family in Canada, and we don’t know who they are, but God does. And they don’t know who we are, but God does. And God spoke to that family in Canada and told them to build us this well, because God notices us. And He loves us. And He wants us to have clean water. But that’s not all He wants to give us.
And the bishop went on to explain the gospel to them, and everybody in that village accepted Christ that day. They now had a thriving church.
At this point, tears were streaming down my face, too. But they weren’t streaming down because no child had died. They weren’t even streaming down because everybody became a Christian (how does that even happen? That’s so foreign to us in North America!). They were streaming down because that morning I hadn’t wanted to go to lunch. I had laundry to do, and people were coming over for dinner and my house was a mess, and I hadn’t done math with the girls in 3 days (we homeschool). I was seriously behind.
And as I sat there, I realized that my priorities were wrong.
I had given that money without thinking about it, really. And yet with that one cheque I had made more difference in the world than perhaps anything else I’ll ever do.
If I do nothing else in my life, I built that village a well.
And I did it because Keith and I worked and used the money we made to give to God to do with as He pleased. And He picked a village in Liberia.
I don’t know what legacy I will leave with my girls. I think it will be a very good one (and I certainly pray that it will be!). But in the broad scheme of things, will it be bigger than what I did there? I don’t know.
Do we understand what a privilege it is to be able to give?
Do we understand what amazing fruit comes from being able to share what God has blessed us with with others?
God will call some people to the mission field. But I have also known people who feel called to stay here so that they can support those missionaries. I know one farmer who lives near me, for instance, who lives on very little money. He’s a single guy. But he has decided that he will support three full-time missionaries. He has the gift of making money, and so he’s using it to help the world.
Money is not the only way we can leave a legacy. There’s also political activism. There’s reaching out to your neighbours and loving them. There’s volunteering! I know my story was only about money, but there are so many ways that we can influence our generation and our world.
I understand, though, that some of those ways are hard when you have social anxiety.
But think about it this way: If you had a child, that child would cost, on average, about $250,000 to raise, they estimate. That gives you an extra $250,000 to give to God’s work on this earth over your life. You can make it your big mission to fight child exploitation in Cambodia. You can give money to fight child prostitution in Thailand. You can help AIDS orphans in Africa. You can support spreading the gospel to the Middle East. You can give money to help the many young women who were raped by ISIS soldiers.
It doesn’t have to be a ton of money, either. Just give what you are called and what you are able, and God will use it and bless it. The amount doesn’t matter as much as the heart behind it. And small amounts, given faithfully over time, lead up to an awful lot.
And if you had a child, it would be more than a full time job. That’s a lot of time that has been freed up for you to spend investing in others. You can give your time at a pregnancy crisis centre, at a food bank. You can welcome refugee families and help them assimilate, and introduce them to Jesus. You can reach out to abused women, to inner city teens, to so many different groups that need you. Volunteer opportunities are immense, and without children, you will have more time.
You may never know your legacy this side of heaven.
That’s okay. Just think of how wonderful it will be when you see Jesus, and you meet all the people that you have helped. Won’t that be amazing?
It is a privilege to give and to serve. Our legacy may not always be visible here, but it is very, very visible to God. And one day, He’ll make it visible to you, too.