An anchor in my community passed away recently. At his Celebration of Life, several people told stories of how powerful and influential he was. It’s worth asking, “What characterized his legacy?”
Did his high position give him a platform?
Did he simply know how to win people over?
Did he influence so many because he was an extrovert?
Did he have super talents which people admired?
Did he donate millions to charities?
The answer to all of these questions is, “Not really.” What characterized his legacy was intentional relationships. He knew relationships aren’t peripheral to life, but central to what it’s all about. He valued people in light of God’s truths, and he was relationally rich because of it.
Consider someone you know who has a notable legacy. I would bet his or her impact is inseparable from intentional relationships.
Jesus had an intimate and intentional meeting with His confidants in John chapters 13-17. He could have talked about anything — how the fishing was bad, how the neighbors were keeping Him up, or the Super Bowl.
But Jesus chose to talk about His relationship with them. He appealed for their help. He washed their feet. He comforted them. He asked for their presence. He pleaded for their unity. This was not accidental or random. Relationships are essential to the identity of God who exists in love and in community as the Trinity. He created us to experience relationships with Him and with others in the same way.
Athlete, do you live as though relationships are central to life, not peripheral? Do you choose to go deep and wide with people, even when it’s hard, because you value them and the relational riches on the other side?
Build your legacy
You don’t have to be super-talented, rich, high-up or extroverted to impact others. But you do have to be intentional. Here are some things you can do that will build your legacy:
1. Ask questions. Draw people out. We get to know people in layers. It’s hard to remove the peel, but once we do, it’s done.
2. Make eye contact. When we look in someone’s eyes, we see something in them we can’t see if we don’t.
3. Pay attention. We can talk to people and not listen or feel what they say. But when we are empathetic, it means we are paying attention.
4. Have intimate visits about sensitive concerns. It’s easier to avoid these conversations or talk about the loud neighbors.
5. Give up measuring. You can’t tally your relational impact. Don’t get discouraged by that. Instead, be encouraged, because incalculable riches are the most valuable ones.
6. Get close to the people you are near. We can be around people all day, every day and not connect with them. We might wonder, “Where can I find relationships?” Answer: in the people your eyes see.
7. Think long game. Short-term impact can be like a video that went viral five years ago that no one remembers today. When it comes to leaving a legacy, slow and steady wins the gold.
8. Be kind. Kindness is the power of God. It’s counterintuitive to think something modest is mighty, but it is. Acts of kindness are the brick and mortar of legacies.
9. Keep it simple. Relational dynamics make the setting, not just the place. You don’t have to go to Paris; you can go for a walk on the closest sidewalk.
10. Spend time alone. Spend time in prayer, meditation, and silence with others in mind. Ironically, this is one of the best ways to focus on others. This has a mysterious way of bleeding into our relationships.
11. Guard your heart. Jealousy, envy, dishonesty and insecurity are relationally toxic legacy killers.
12. Get earthy. A pastor did an entire series on Jesus’ physical touch. Jesus was often touching people and being touched. There’s power there. Hugs help. So do secret handshakes.
13. Put in. When it comes to relationships, you kind of get out what you put in.
14. Wash feet. That doesn’t necessarily mean scrub toes, but consider what it looks like to turn people to God through your relationships with them. That’s a great service.
15. Read one of the gospels. Study Jesus. Look at His revolutionary social and relational actions. As our predecessor, our collective legacies should look like His.