Heritage and Legacy

Would you rather pass down a heritage or a legacy? How about both? Examine the definitions of "heritage" and "legacy," and you will note both indicate something passed from one generation to another. 

"Heritage" is normally understood as the culture of a person that is received from family members or even the community. For example, we speak of a national, cultural or religious heritage. Although pieces of our heritage might include some family heirlooms and photos, the term is more general, abstract and non-specific rather than concrete. The heritage we pass down might be a set of values or beliefs, music, even a family's favored foods.

On the other hand, "legacy" -  which can either have a positive or negative connotation - is a lesson or part of our history that we pass down  to the next generation. For example, my husband's father, Bob, has a strong work ethic. At a time when most men his age retire, Dad Wilson scurries all over the docked USS Midway in San Diego, working as a docent in the ship, a functioning naval museum. The legacy of "the joy of work" is a lesson well understood by his children and grandchildren.

I've thought a lot about those terms in recent days. (I guess that's something people do with age.) I keep wondering what my children and grandchildren will remember and "receive" from me when I am gone.

First there is heritage. I want them to understand some of their national heritage - a rich mixture of some seven cultures. Christmas is usually the time I pass this down to them. Every year we make Danish Springerle cookies to celebrate my husband's side of the family, and we hide a pickle ornament in the Christmas tree to remind them of my family's German heritage.

But I also want them to understand their strong Christian heritage. I want them to understand the worldview that arises from biblical beliefs. I want to pass down my Bibles - most of them contain notes and quotes from years of study and ministry. My huge regret is that I didn't journal, and I didn't document all my prayers and answers to those prayers through the years. God's faithfulness is a huge part of my life. It's not too late to start recording what God has done as an encouragement to my family in the days to come.

1 Timothy 5:8, referring to financial and supportive provision, says, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." As I read those words today, I thought, "I want to provide for my family's spiritual support, as well.

And I notice that God leaves a "heritage" to mankind as well. "Behold," wise King Solomon wrote, "children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward." Unfortunately, many in our culture foolishly reject that wonderful gift through apathy, neglect or worse, abortion.

God's heritage to us are the beliefs that align with His Word - values that honor Him and enable us to live in harmony with His will.

And then there is legacy.  I hope that my children and grandchildren will pick up my spiritual history - the joy of loving and serving God.

I want them to learn some of the lessons God has taught me through the years, and I want to take time to record them before it's too late.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 gives us ways to teach God's words that are on our heart to our children (and grandchildren): "... talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."

How about you? What will you pass down to the generations to follow? 

Maybe you never married. You don't have children or grandchildren. You can still share your heritage and pass down a legacy to other relatives, people you mentor, children who suffer in dysfunctional families, prison inmates, etc. Consider all the possibilities you have to share and influence others.

People will "receive" something from you - either negative or positive. If you are wise, you will build a heritage that blesses others. If you love the Lord, aim to create a God-honoring legacy for your family and friends.