The family you come from isn’t as important as the family you’re going to have.
––Ring Lardner, cited in The Heritage, Bruner and Ledbetter
It could be easy at this point to focus on your past and compare it to that of others. This may lead you to wonder what your future holds. What legacy will you leave in your own family? What legacy will you leave in your church and your community? Is there hope for leaving a godly legacy for those of the next generation?
In this session, you will examine the phrase “You have been handed a heritage but you will leave a legacy.” Kurt D. Bruner and J. Otis Ledbetter address this issue in their book The Heritage. This session will challenge you to consider what kind of heritage you will leave the next generation in your family, church, and community.
Individual Aim: To consider how to leave a godly heritage for those of the next generation.
Group Aim: To discuss how you can leave a godly heritage in others’ lives.
Read Session 7: Writing a Legacy.
Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
and parents are the pride of their children.
Bruner and Ledbetter state,
You cannot escape the ties of biology and identity that tie you to your parents and their parents, going back for generations. Your connections to preceding generations can bring the good or the bad. In turn, your connections to your children have a direct impact upon future generations for good or bad.
In the process of sharing your life story, you have undoubtedly seen the extraordinary influence of parents and other authority figures on children. No one has greater influence in a person’s life than a parent or guardian. It will mark the person for a lifetime.
However, that influence does not determine how we live. We still make choices to live according to or contrary to those people’s influence. In Ezekiel 18, God makes it clear that a person’s heritage does not determine his or her destiny. Each individual has the chance either to ignore a godly heritage and live for self-glorification, or to oppose an ungodly heritage and endeavor to pursue godliness:
“But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:
“He does not eat at the mountain shrines
or look to the idols of the house of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife.
He does not oppress anyone
or require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
but gives his food to the hungry
and provides clothing for the naked.
He withholds his hand from sin
and takes no usury or excessive interest.
He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.
He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live….The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” (verses 14-17,20)
Everyone knows how destructive an ungodly heritage can be in someone’s life. Television and movies are full of examples of this pattern. Men who were beaten by their fathers often beat their children. Women whose mothers married abusive men often marry abusive men. The cycle of pain and sin is a discouraging reality. However, a positive model for godliness can be just as powerful an influence as a negative one. Many of us have or will have children. Many of us currently have or will have influence in the lives of others who are not our children but are of a younger generation. The Scriptures portray the potential for this kind of influence:
He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our forefathers
to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their forefathers—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him.
Of course, the hope of having a positive influence in others’ lives, regardless of our heritage, doesn’t ease the pain for those of us who have been handed a difficult heritage. We still feel deep loss. When exposed to others who have had a positive heritage, we can feel bitter when we compare our lives to theirs, as noted by Bruner and Ledbetter:
It just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Some were given a wonderful, healthy positive heritage—a beautiful gown. Others were handed rags. Many of those who were given a solid heritage will find the process of passing on that tradition as natural as breathing. Others who received a very weak heritage will have no idea how to overcome the past, let alone create a positive future for the next generation. The good news is that both can create and give a wonderful heritage. Yes, the process of doing so will be much harder for some than others; but it can be done. It must be done. How? By reclaiming what you lost, or by learning to give what you didn’t get.
Our hope in Christ not only provides the way out of an ungodly heritage but also empowers us to establish a godly heritage. By walking with Christ, we can do what is against all odds, humanly speaking. As believers, we have the presence of God’s Spirit to guide us to change, so the legacy we write in others’ lives can be godly.
(For more on walking in the Spirit and the pursuit of godliness in the Christian life, see the Integrity study in this series.)
Bruner and Ledbetter write, “In evaluating your heritage it is important to understand and pass down the good aspect of what you were handed, break the cycle of hurt by leaving the bad behind, and to chart a new course as you build a new heritage for yourself and those you love.” Webster defines heritage as “something possessed as a result of one’s natural situation or birth.” Bruner and Ledbetter define heritage in a similar way: “A heritage is the spiritual, emotional, and social legacy that is passed from parent to child . . . good or bad.”
We had no choice regarding our heritage—what values were instilled in us or how our parents treated us or each other. We received those values because God sovereignly placed us into particular family units. But we do have a choice in what we will leave to our friends and family. “Understanding the impact of our heritage is vital to the process of living. It can give you a new perspective on your past, a calm confidence in the present, and a meaningful sense of vision for your future.”
As you went through “Life Story,” you all were brought face-to-face with your past—some with sadness, others with joy, and others somewhere in between. Now is the time to look at the different aspects of your heritage and plan how you can pass on a godly legacy to others.