year ago on February 20, my father, Howard G. “Prof” Hendricks, died. Two years after finishing sixty years of teaching at Dallas Theological Seminary, he said his goodbyes to the family, then rolled over and went into a deep sleep. A little more than two days later, he quit breathing on earth and entered the House of the Lord.
Needless to say, this past year has given me much opportunity to reflect on the whole notion of legacy—what someone leaves behind when they depart this earthly existence. Indeed, one of the most common things people have said to me this year is “Your dad left such an incredible legacy!”
I can’t disagree with that. Sixty unbroken years of teaching. An estimated thirteen thousand students in his classes. Untold thousands, perhaps millions, of people influenced through his books, speaking engagements, radio broadcasts, visual media, and other means of communication. By any measure, he lived an extraordinary life.
But as I’ve pondered that legacy, along with its obvious implications for my own legacy, I’ve come to realize that a great deal of what I believed about leaving one’s mark on the world, and much of what is commonly taught on that subject, needs to be re-examined. It’s not that it’s outright wrong. It’s just shortsighted.
Let me explain. The matter of leaving a legacy is usually formulated as a question: eventually you’re going to die, and when you do, what will you leave behind?
There are countless ways in which people answer that question. Some leave buildings. Some leave books. Some leave a family. Some leave the gift of wonderful memories and stories. My dad left his students with the charge to go and reproduce themselves.
Others, sadly, leave nothing but wreckage and sorrow. Broken relationships. Ruined finances. The shame and waste of bad choices and errors in judgment. Perhaps the tragedy of having squandered enormous potential on silly, pointless pursuits. Maybe even the memory of an act so vile that all one has to do is say the person’s name and people shudder.
I suppose there’s a third category: some people won’t leave much at all. They’ll live their lives and then just . . . go away. There won’t be anything to outlive them, really. It will be as if they never existed.
Eventually you’re going to die, and when you do, what will you leave behind?
As I say, that’s how the question of legacy gets posed most of the time. It’s a great question.
Nonetheless, it’s the wrong question!
This World Is Not Home.
My Dad recognized that. At the beginning of his memorial service (which Stonebriar Church was kind enough to videotape, and you can view it on YouTube), a delightful media remembrance of his life was shown that brought laughter, tears, and ultimately hope. It inspired hope because it ended with a clip of Dad’s own voice delivering one of his most memorable lines: “We are in the land of the dying, headed toward the land of the living.”
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