Photograph by Reggie Joiner

Who was your Great-Grandfather? Do you know his name? Whenever I ask the question, most people have no idea. They know their parents and their grandparents, but it usually stops there. They definitely don’t know much, if anything at all, about their great-great-grandfather. I imagine the primary reason is because they didn’t grow up knowing them. It’s sobering to think about how quickly someone is forgotten. Most people want to make a mark. Everyone wants to be remembered. We all want a little fame – at least enough so we are remembered by our own tribe.

One of the last things my grandfather said was, “Don’t forget me?” I always thought it was a strange request, because the reality is you and I will probably one day be forgotten. Unless you invented Apple computer, wrote Harry Potter or became President, your name will likely not be remembered beyond a century or two. Even if you succeed at becoming really famous, distant history will probably only describe you in a few sentences or paragraphs. The reality is that your children’s children’s children will never know who you were.  I’m sure you are thinking, “Hey thanks for such a positive message. Now I know one day I will be forgotten!” Sorry, but it’s true. So what should you do about it? Maybe you could stop right now and set up a Wikipedia page so you can make sure your great grandkids can Google you in the twenty-second century! Or, you could consider asking yourself a different question. Instead of “How can I be famous?” Maybe you should simply ask, “How can I leave a legacy?”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the question this last week. Primarily because Reggie Gattie, a first cousin and close friend, died May 14 after an intense and long battle with melanoma cancer. Reggie was almost a decade ahead of me in age, so he was referred to as “big Reg” in our family. I got stuck with the name “little Reg.” He was a worship leader for most of his adult life. The past 16 years, he served at Prince Avenue Baptist in Athens, Ga. So Tuesday night before his funeral, I sat down to try to answer the question, “What are the words that sum up Reggie’s life?” One of the words I kept thinking about was the word “legacy.” Reggie never really seemed pre-occupied with making himself famous, but he definitely left a legacy.

Fame and Legacy are very different in nature.

Fame focuses on how often others think about you.
Legacy focuses on how often you think about others.

Fame pushes you into the spotlight.
Legacy pushes someone else into the spotlight.

Fame pursues popularity.
Legacy pursues character.

Fame will not matter in eternity.
Legacy demonstrates that eternity matters.

Fame points to you.
Legacy points to God.

It’s really a tricky issue, because we all want to be famous, at least with those who are close to us. What would happen if we became more concerned with what our kids think about God, than we are with what they think about us? I took this picture of Reg walking with his grandson Jack at our last family reunion. I couldn’t help wondering, “How much will Jack remember about his grandfather when he grows up?” Then I realized that’s not the point. Reg didn’t live his life to be known. He lived his life to help others know God. Reg wasn’t trying to be famous, he was trying to leave a legacy.