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Believe it or not, you have a 'spiritual legacy' and it's time to think about yours

OpinionBelieve it or not, you have a 'spiritual legacy' and it's time to think about yours

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“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

Recently my wife and I attended a funeral . . . another funeral. At our age, we’re going to a lot more of these than weddings. Maybe at your age you are, too. And according to the above quote from the “wisest man who ever lived,” I guess attending funerals is a good idea. Right?

During the service there were tributes to the deceased—a man named Wayne who had lived a full life and died at a ripe age. Family members, long-time friends, and business colleagues reminisced with the small congregation about some of the things they remembered about him. His daughter recalled especially lovely and happy things about her dad. For all these people, Wayne was what the Bible refers to as a patriarch and what he left behind is what we call “legacy.”


Sitting there in that service, I was reminded that I am also a patriarch and what I’m leaving behind when I step into eternity is my legacy. My wife, sitting at my side that day, is a matriarch and what she will leave behind is her legacy. At our funerals, whenever they happen down the road, we will be remembered.

happy family together

Before you let your eyes move to the next paragraph, could I ask you to stop for a moment, so that I can say something really important? You, too, are (or one day will be) a patriarch or a matriarch. And at your funeral, people will remember you. They may even refer to those you leave behind as part of your legacy. And even though you’re currently alive and, hopefully, vibrant, thinking about these things, while perhaps a challenge, is so important.

For many years, there were two large portraits that hung in my parents’ home—one of my paternal grandfather and another of my maternal grandfather. These were important men to me. 

While both were farmers and parish ministers, the two men could not have been more dissimilar. Grandpa Wolgemuth was an immaculate, focused, intense man. One of the most prominent rooms in his home was his study, the bookshelves lined with important volumes. His car was never dirty. I can still see him headed toward the barn with a single bucket of water to wash it. Thick, black eyebrows and furrowed crevasses across his forehead let us know that he was on a mission. He embodied hard work and the serious business of life. 


Grandpa Dourte, my maternal grandaddy, was in love with life. His laughter filled every room of their home. Music from his harmonica cheered us for part of the day; his humming and silly rhymes took care of the rest. The two most memorable places in his home were the parlor with a player piano—he loved music—and his workshop in the shed—he loved building things.


At your funeral, people will remember you. And, right now, people are paying attention to you and how you are living your life. (iStock)

How well I remember these two men. As a young boy, I studied their every move, I listened to their voices, and I believed what they believed about life and about faith. And why shouldn’t I have? They were patriarchs. Men who left a legacy. Men who set the pace for a host of others who would come behind them—including me.

If you’re a parent, someday your children will probably have children. Then they will have children who will have children. And each of these people will know you, either because they remember you or because they hear stories about you from others. Even if you don’t have kids, there still are plenty of younger folks paying attention to you. And when you’re gone, they’ll hear about you. You will be their patriarch. Their matriarch.

Who we are, how we laughed and treated others, and what was truly important to us will become known to many people. What an awesome thing this is. 


So, when one of my children or a close friend speaks at my funeral, what would I like for them to say about me? And, since you’re here reading this, what would you like for people to say about you?

Robert Wolgemuth

Robert Wolgemuth is a former president of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the founder of the literary agency Wolgemuth & Associates, and the author of more than 20 books. 

Here’s my list of five things this patriarch is hoping for:

1. Robert stopped and he listened

I often move way too fast, zooming past people instead of saying “hello.” I need to be intentional about slowing down, even stopping to look at them with a smile on my face. And if they speak, I want to do what hearing impaired people have taught me: to listen with my eyes.

2. Robert spoke kind words 

My mother used to say, “If you’re going to say something, say something nice.” She’s been gone a long time but she lived this. Her name was Grace. And she was exactly that. Her words made sure of it. Even when she was in her nineties, people looked forward to being with her. They counted on her sweet words.

3. Robert was always learning

My hero in this space was a man named Don. He’s gone now, but in his later years he learned to play the piano and speak Spanish. His nose was often in a book or an interesting article, never allowing himself to be passive about new information. Even as an older man, he did his best to keep up with news about his progeny, world events, and the latest technologies.


4. Robert loved God

Even though being thoroughly independent is a quality many people prize, my aspiration is to live broken and dependent on the One who created me. My Bible heroes—Noah, Joseph, David, Daniel, Mary, Stephen—have one thing in common . . . they knew they needed divine help and were eager to humbly let God and others know this.

5. Robert loved me

As often as I can, I’m eager to let people know how I feel about them. For the folks at my funeral, I’m hoping many of them will remember reading my texts or hearing me say “I love you” to them.

You may be a highly-educated person. Or maybe you’re not. You may have great wealth. Or maybe not. Regardless of the things that line your resume or mine, you and I will be satisfied if the folks who step to the microphone at our memorial service say some of these things. About me. About you. This will be our legacy.


And since, I still have some sand left above the pinch in my hourglass—or, as the guy at the tire store says—still some mileage left on my wheels, I can’t see any reason not to be doing these things now. 

How about you?



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