What Legacy Are We Leaving Behind?
How many of you have prepared your last will and testament? What inheritance will you be leaving your children and grandchildren? Have you thought about that?
Maybe some of us feel uncomfortable talking about last wills and testaments, and feel uneasy thinking about inheritances, because these things obviously remind us of our own mortality. Still, I’m sure many grandparents and parents have taken the time to seriously reflect upon their last will and testament, and have carefully thought about how to divide their inheritance among their loved ones and loved charities.
Today on Godparents and Grandparents Sunday, I want each of us to pause and reflect upon the legacy or inheritance that we are leaving our children, grandchildren and godchildren. My focus, however, will obviously not be on how we divide up our financial portfolio, but will center on something much more essential to our Orthodox Christian faith – and that is the legacy or example in our faith that we leave behind which our children will follow!
When our children think about us, their parents, grandparents, or godparents, do they think of these virtues of mercy and love? Do they think of their parents, and grandparents and godparents as people who readily forgive one another, who try to reconcile with their enemies, and who hold no grudges against those who hurt them? Will they think of someone with deep faith and a strong commitment to Jesus Christ? Here lies a crucial element to think about in the legacy or inheritance we leave behind.
One of the saddest things I have witnessed in life is to see how children imitate their parents in carrying a grudge, refusing to speak to a family member, or maintaining a stubborn spirit into a new generation. I know a case, and unfortunately this is not too rare, where brothers didn’t speak to one another for 10 years because of some perceived hurt. What makes matters worse, however, is to watch their children grow up, and imitate the spirit of their parents. I know children from this same family, who 20 years later, got into a fight with one another and then refused to speak to their own sibling. It was a flashback to what they saw their father do with his own brother. What a horrible legacy to pass on from generation to generation. Yet, we see it again and again, how children imitate not what they hear, but what they see in their elders.
What a sacred and awesome task we all have – and I say “we” implying every parent, grandparent, godparent, and even aunt and uncle. Each of us, with our own special relationship, have a serious responsibility to guide the next generation on a path that leads them towards the Kingdom of Heaven.
Of course, parents play the primary role in the spiritual upbringing of a child. It is in the home that children discover and develop their identity, cultivate their virtues, create their visions, and prepare to face the world outside. It is in the home that our children are first educated and taught about God. It is in the home that we say our first prayers, and discover the importance, or unimportance, of God. It is our family that creates a foundation that often stays with us until the end of our lives.
And yet, from the day of our baptism, the Church understands the necessity for parents to have help in teaching a child and leading him/her on the straight and narrow path towards the kingdom of heaven. And this help comes from godparents, as well as grandparents, and even other elders in the lives of children!
The Book of Proverbs wisely teaches, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from the path.” (Prov 22:6) In today’s post-modern, secular society, parents need all the help they can get in overcoming the countless temptations and snares awaiting our children. If we want to raise our children according to the Orthodox Christian traditions and values, we face a daunting task to combat the countless un-Christian influences found in television, pop-culture, and the internet, not to say anything about the many pathetic and even anti-Christian role models too many celebrities, sports heroes, and other rich and famous figures offer.
St. Theofan the Recluse once noted, “Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” Of course, we know that whenever we struggle for something sacred, the devil does not remain inactive. Here lies the grave responsibility of godparents, and I’ll add grandparents - to accept and fulfill this sacred and sobering call to help parents raise and train their children in a Christ-centered, loving manner. In fact, the Church sees this relationship of Godparents and Godchildren as such a holy union, that from the day of one’s baptism, Godparents are no longer considered simply good friends of the family, but actually become an intimate part of the baptized child’s immediate family.
Since the spiritual battle we face appears so daunting, let us call upon not only Godparents and grandparents, but even uncles, aunts, and friends, to assist our parents who are struggling to raise our children with a Christ-centered foundation. Contrary to the egocentric lure which society teaches, telling us to fulfill all our own desires, we must instill the Christian spirit of sacrificial love which culminates in denying oneself and carrying the Cross of Jesus. We must teach our children to forgive one another, as our heavenly Father forgives us. And the greatest way to teach our children is for them to see these virtues lived out in the people whom they admire and who surround them in everyday life – their parents, grandparents, and godparents. Children will see right through our hypocritical words, and will note much more our example, our actions, and our way of life.
Pause for a moment on this Godparents/Grandparents Sunday, and think about what type of legacy the next generation sees in you. Do they see you as a model of mercy and love and reconciliation, or do they see carriers of bitterness, anger, resentment, hurt and pain? Will our children imitate our heritage of Christ-centered virtues, or will they see in our lives other characteristics totally contrary to the Gospel, and then accept that legacy as their own?
I pray that we all may reflect on this special Sunday upon the inheritance we’re leaving behind to our children and the next generation. And may we focus on making our legacy one that authentically imitates our heavenly Father’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
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