In South Texas in the 1980’s, the grocery stores would sell plastic mesh bags of mixed fruit. It would have a mini watermelons, cantaloupes, and honeydews. The growers were smart. The bag was priced low enough so that even if you didn’t want all the fruit, the bag was still worth the cost.
My family never ate the honeydew. We liked the other fruit, but the honeydew sat on the counter until it rotted. I wished we could just split the bag, take what we really liked and needed, and leave the rest.
Those of us who have been called to change our family legacy eventually have to split the bag. Everyone inherits a mix of helpful and godly versus destructive beliefs and habits. But if we want our stamp on this world to be a strong, faithful story we can be proud of, we have to be willing to look carefully at what we’ve received and courageously decide which fruit stays and which goes.
The ancient Israeli kingdom fell because one man didn’t take a microscope to the legacy he was inheriting. In 1 Kings 12, Rehoboam inherits the kingdom from his father Solomon, a leader God blessed with wisdom beyond measure. Imagine being his son. You could so easily assume every choice Solomon ever made was right. When Rehoboam had to make similar choices, it should be easy. What did Dad, the wisest man who ever lived, do? OK. Let’s do that.
Then soon after the new administration takes over, the labor force asks their king to lighten their workload. Solomon had worked the people too hard to finish the temple and establish the kingdom as a world superpower. Now everyone is asking for a break. The kingdom needed to relate to its workforce differently than it had in the past. Rehoboam doesn’t put enough effort into examining his father’s ways by listening to the older men who had actually worked with Solomon and instead simply defaults into what was done before. The people revolt, and Israel is torn in half. Rehoboam doesn’t stop and think long enough to realize that being the wisest man on earth doesn’t mean Solomon was a good boss.
The reverse is true for those of us trying to rebuild our family legacies. We may be tempted to throw the entire bag out. But even then there is some fruit to save. We may have think about it for a long time, but something valuable, not matter how small, is always there.
This process can feel so judgmental, cruel and disloyal. It forces us to pull up memories we’d rather burry. We are so tempted to just run the other direction. However my family handled hurt and disappointment, I will do the opposite. Frankly, those of us who inherited difficult legacies usually wind up with better lives by going all opposite. But then we are still being controlled by the past, and such a complete rejection fertilizes resentment instead of encouraging forgiveness. Even in painful legacies, we must find the one tiny good fruit to keep.
I’ll go first. Despite a legacy I never want to repeat, my family stressed learning. My mother read to us and always bought every book we wanted, even when I was going through a trashy teenage romance phase. She kept telling me an education was crucial for women. She was right. Going off to college set me free and put my feet on a different path. To this day, I am a voracious reader and whenever I have a problem I can’t solve, I find the answers in books, especially The Book. It’s the sun ripened cantaloupe I’m keeping from a bag of otherwise useless fruit.
Finding this one valuable thing helps to unlock forgiveness. When I have to constantly do the hard work of undoing all the lessons I learned as a child and remapping my brain to respond differently, I get stuck in resentment. Why does life have to be so hard for me? Why didn’t my parents love me enough to teach me differently? But when I find the good fruit in my legacy, I can at least be grateful my parents made sure I knew the value of reading. This one bit of gratitude helps dissolve some of the resentment and encourages forgiveness.
I even want my own children to do the same thing when they become adults. We all leave a mixed bag legacy; we teach future generations some healthy, helpful beliefs and habits and some not. As hard as I tried, I’m leaving some unhelpful legacies too. There are some ways I lived that I want my boys to do differently. I want them to have the courage to look at all of my life and see what is good, right and should continue and what maladaptive habits need to fall away. This is the only way legacies, and even whole families, get better over time. And more than I want my name to live on, I want to leave a legacy that gets better and better over the generations until Jesus returns and there is no more need for any legacy, because eternity is now.
So what about you? What parts of your legacy do you want to continue? Which parts need to be adjusted? What can you do today to set your descendants on a better path?
Remember love God, serve others, and take care of yourself.