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What Will I Leave Behind?

Recently I read a story that spoke to me powerfully. It is about a ship that had been blown off course and the sailors found themselves near some unchartered islands. They see half a dozen mounds rising out of the blue South Seas waters. The captain orders the men to drop anchor and goes ashore. He is a robust man with a barrel chest, full beard, and curious soul.

On the first island he sees nothing but sadness. Underfed children. Tribes in conflict. No farming or food development, no treatment for the sick, and no schools. Just simple, needy people.

The second and following islands reveal more of the same. The captain sighs at what he sees. “This is no life for these people.” But what can he do?

Then he steps onto the last and largest island. The people are healthy and well fed. Irrigation systems nourish their fields, and roads connect the villages. The children have bright eyes and strong bodies. The captain asks the chief for an explanation. How has this island moved so far ahead of the others?

The chief, who is smaller than the captain but every bit his equal in confidence, gives a quick response: “Father Benjamin. He educated us in everything from agriculture to health. He built schools and clinics and dug wells.”

The captain asks, “Can you take me to see him?”

The chief nods and signals for two tribesmen to join him. They guide the captain over a jungle ridge to a simple, expansive medical clinic. It is equipped with clean beds and staffed with trained caretakers. They show the captain the shelves of medicine and introduce him to the staff. The captain, though impressed, sees nothing of Father Benjamin. He repeats his request. “I would like to see Father Benjamin. Can you take me to where he lives?”

The three natives look puzzled. They confer among themselves. After several minutes the chief invites, “Follow us to the other side of the island.” They walk along the shoreline until they reach a series of fishponds. Canals connect the ponds to the ocean. As the tide rises, fish pass from the ocean into the ponds. The islanders then lower canal gates and trap the fish for harvest.

Again the captain is amazed. He meets fishermen and workers, gatekeepers and net casters. But he sees nothing of Father Benjamin. He wonders if he is making himself clear.

“I don’t see Father Benjamin. Please take me to where he lives.”

The trio talks alone again. After some discussion the chief offers, “Let’s go up the mountain.” They lead the captain up a steep, narrow path. After many twists and turns the path deposits them in front of a grass-roofed chapel. The voice of the chief is soft and earnest. “He has taught us about God.”

He escorts the captain inside and shows him the altar, a large wooden cross, several rows of benches, and a Bible.

“Is this where Father Benjamin lives?” the captain asks.

The men nod and smile.

“May I talk to him?”

Their faces grow suddenly serious. “Oh, that would be impossible.”

“Why?”

“He died many years ago.”

The bewildered captain stares at the men. “I asked to see him, and you showed me a clinic, some fish farms, and this chapel. You said nothing of his death.”

“You didn’t ask about his death,” the chief explains. “You asked to see where he lives. We showed you.”

An important question we all should consider is, “What in my life will keep on living after I am gone? What is the legacy I will leave behind?”

St. Augustine wrote that thinking and reflecting on our legacy is so important, because it helps us think maturely about life, encouraging us to reflect and reconsider who it is we most desire to please.

The issue of legacy can change the course of our lives if we are willing to ask ourselves two related questions: How do I want to be remembered? And, what do I want my life to have been about once it is over?

This issue of legacy reminded me of Charles Dickens and his famous novella, A Christmas Carol. It was written in 1843, and apparently Dickens was attempting to show us how to live a purposeful life, making a difference in the lives of others.

Ebenezer Scrooge’s entire life focused only on money and wealth, caring about them more than anything else in life. In the process, it made him a miserable person, who was viewed with contempt by all who knew him.

However, as the narrative ends, Scrooge’s life is transformed as he becomes focused on using his wealth to benefit the lives of others. His life is now full of joyful purpose, and though this is a work of fiction, how do you think Scrooge would be remembered after this transformation?

We all have a yearning that our earthly lives and endeavors will have some level of permanence that lives on after we are gone. For this to happen, I believe it is imperative to invest in the lives of others. All around us there are those who struggle physically, emotionally and spiritually. Unfortunately, many of us do not want to be troubled by their distresses, as that would personally disturb our lives.

Yet, we must remember that God’s priority is people, because people have eternal value. I am reminded of Christian author Max Anders’ message:

Everything God does is eternally significant. When we are submissive to what He is seeking to accomplish (through us), we find ourselves participating in the eternal.

This is the key to a lasting legacy and living with a real sense of meaning, knowing that we are participating in the eternal purposes of God.


Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.

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