I was a little anxious. I was guest speaker at our church’s youth group, sitting before a crowd of teenagers who had been encouraged to ask any question they wanted. They asked really good questions: Why does God allow suffering? How can we know if God is speaking to us? How can it be just to send a person to hell for eternity?
During free time, I joined a pick-up basketball game with some of the teens. I was easily the tallest, and arguably the best, player on the court. I got rebounds, made outlet passes, hustled down court and cut to the hoop or positioned myself on the blocks. But nobody ever passed me the ball.
That didn’t bother me. Teenage boys are notorious for being ball-hogs, and at first I shrugged it off at that. But then I realized the boys were passing the ball to other boys on the team, but not to me. I may be wrong, but it crossed my mind that they weren’t passing me the ball because they thought I was old (and probably unreliable).
I’m in my late fifties. My hair is thinning and my beard is white. I don’t look like a thirty-year-old any more, though as long as I don’t look in the mirror, I still feel like one. The realization that some (admittedly very young) people think that I’m old came as a surprise.
But the truth is, I have been on this planet for almost six decades. What have I been doing with all that time? Is the earth a better place because I’ve been here? Am I leaving a heritage for my family, friends and church? And, if so, what is it?
I frequently ask people about the heritage handed down to them by the important people in their lives. I usually introduce the topic by explaining the difference between an inheritance (what someone leaves you when they die – property, cash, stocks and bonds) and a heritage (what someone leaves inside you when they die – a strong work ethic, a thirst for knowledge, a sense of humor, a sense of responsibility, a love of family).
An inheritance can be directed to anyone, including a stranger, but a heritage can only be imparted to people to whom one is known. An inheritance can make a person rich, but a heritage can make him valuable. A heritage is more precious than an inheritance.
A few years ago it was common to see cars with bumper stickers that read, “I’m spending my kids’ inheritance.” (It’s less common now, because all those people spent their kids’ inheritance on new cars.) It is not difficult to imagine circumstances in which spending the kids’ inheritance would be the right thing to do, but it impossible to imagine a situation in which frittering away the kids’ heritage would be good. Yet people do it all the time.
Heritage is frittered away by people who do not connect genuinely and personally with those around them, especially family. While passing on heritage does not require words, it does require close and extended contact. People with the ability to pass on a rich heritage can fritter it away by isolating themselves from those around them.
Heritage can also be compromised. Just as an inheritance is compromised when inherited liabilities exceed assets, a heritage is compromised when as many (or even more) negative qualities are passed on as positive ones. What good does it do if I pass on to my children a strong work ethic, but along with it instill in them an indifference towards the feelings of others?
What can I do to impart a rich heritage to family and friends? I can stop thinking about heritage and start thinking about the people around me. What will be helpful to them? How can I use the gifts, passions and experience I possess to serve them?
Further, I can own the truth that the best way to give a life-enriching heritage is to give myself. Sensible words and wise counsel are not enough. Heritage cannot be imparted from a safe distance. I have to be present and involved. Nothing else can guarantee a rich and lasting heritage.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 8/22/2015