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.
Ah Sheila – some days I feel so guilty because there is Phil sharing again. First in line like a little first grader…every day there is his name on the blog.
Your story and suggestions and most likely outcome just warm my heart this morning for so many reasons and I can’t resist just saying Thanks.
Oh, you’re so welcome! That Liberian well story is very emotional for me, even years after the fact. We have no idea of the impact we’re having or how God can multiply our small gifts.
As as married woman without children under similar circumstances, I found this article very relevant. https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/called-to-childlessness-the-surprising-ways-of-god
“My desire now is to be the woman that God calls me to be. No more. And no less.”
Nearly six years ago, my youngest son (age 7 at the time) was diagnosed with leukemia. That Christmas, a family secretly (and to this day we still have no idea who it was) blessed us with four weeks of Christmas gifts. They wrote us a note saying how they had done this for several years and their children forgo Christmas gifts so they can do this to bless a family going through a hard time. It was the sweetest thing we’ve ever experienced. So touching and each week when we opened the gifts, it would just bring tears to my eyes how someone was so generous to us in such a deep valley in our lives. One week they gave us a Christmas CD and a gift card to Starbucks so we could drive around and look at Christmas lights and sip hot cocoa together. Another week they gave us a DVD, picture book, and popcorn/snacks so we could have a family night in. The last gift they gave us was actually cash for us to do a family event together of our choosing along with an amazing sign that says “It’s A Wonderful Life”. That sign is displayed in our home year round to remind us when times are tough, it still is a wonderful life that God has so blessed us with.
So all this to say, the writer and her husband could start doing something like this. It doesn’t even have to be at Christmastime. Sharing the love of God with others in a “surprise” way is wonderful. Or once a month when they go out to dinner, look for a family that is dining out that they could bless by just paying for their meal. We had that happen to us once when we took our son out to IHOP after he had a chemo treatment. He was so sickly looking, very frail and bald. It was obvious he was very ill and what a treat that was for us to have someone decide to do that for us. We don’t know who it was, but it made my husband and I tear up right there in the restaurant.
There are so many ways to leave a legacy even if you don’t have children. I do hope my rambling on does give some inspiration.
P.S. My son has been off treatment for 30 months tomorrow and is doing fabulous. We praise the Lord how he carried our family through that dark valley (39 months & 11 days of treatment) and has healed our son from his cancer.
Oh, I love this! And I’m so glad your son is doing so well. But how lovely that God thought of you in those dark times, and prompted that family to reach out. That’s truly beautiful!
The one legacy I haven’t seen mentioned yet here is prayer.
We so often underestimate the long-term impact of our prayers. I know of someone who prayed for decades for her friend’s child to come to Christ. Someone else who prayed faithfully, daily, for her pastor and for the Sunday service, even though she herself was a shut-in and couldn’t attend.
So many stories.
You don’t have to be able to leave the house to leave a legacy. 🙂
This is beautiful, Emily! Prayer is certainly one of the most important and yet most underrated aspects of the life of a child of God.
So true, Emily. I wonder how many ministries were strengthened by prayers no one realized were even happening.
Oh, so well said, Emily! My grandfather had a stroke at 67 and lived for another 25 years, but was very immobile. He spent most of it praying, I know for me to one day speak. I am so grateful for his prayers!
Sheila, this is great! Liberia actually holds a special place in my heart for a kind of odd reason (my husband and I have written and are working with a producer on a script that takes place in Liberia), and I’ve studied a lot about Liberia and its’ culture and have a special fondness for the place.
Even though I have children, I still struggle with my impact on the world and the legacy I will leave. I feel drawn to leave a legacy apart from just my children (though teaching them to be good people is important to me as well) and sometimes I need reminders that there are many ways I can make an influence in the world that I might not even realize.
I’m glad you liked it, Ronni! We don’t realize how much God can use our offerings. But He can. And that is such a privilege!
Im a few days late in commenting, but I’m glad you talked about this. It’s easy for those of us without kids to feel like our lives just don’t matter as much. I think that’s a very unfortunate thing that happens within the Christian culture.
Of course, now that my husband I are separated I am so extremely thankful we didn’t have kids. It’s awful when innocent children suffer from adults’ poor choices. It’s bad enough when a (mostly) innocent adult suffers from another’s poor choices.
I LOVE the well story. I would really love to do something like that when I have the funds. I want to live my life in a way that makes a difference for others.
I know a young woman who isn’t expected to live more than a few more years. She gives of herself on a suicide hotline. Wow, talk about stepping out and making a difference!