By Dr. Barry Thornton
In the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Glenn Holland spends his entire life teaching music in a local high school, postponing his dream of writing a musical score as a part of his life’s work. As the movie winds down, Holland’s job is eliminated, leading to a sense of frustration and the feeling that his life’s dreams have gone unfulfilled. In the closing scene of the movie as he, his wife, and son finish clearing out his classroom, a noise is heard in the auditorium. Scores of students he had taught had gathered to surprise him, honoring him for his efforts in teaching.
One of his former students, Gertrude Lang, addresses the crowd and says, “Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life and on a lot of lives I know. But I have a feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent. . . . But he would be wrong, because I think that he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame. Look around you. There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.”
The movie embodies the feeling and frustration of many mothers as their children grow older and venture out. Devotion to their children on the altar of human dreams and ambitions oftentimes leaves mothers wondering if they had done too much in the development of their children while setting aside their own personal potentiality in the world, seemingly with the pangs of a certain shade of regret.
My mother raised my brother and me and had a lot on her shoulders when my father acquired multiple sclerosis. She took a job outside the home and helped send my brother and me out into the world, achieving levels of success with our own lives. My father died in 1985, and my mother continued to work until she was remarried. My mother is a gifted individual, a pianist, a piano teacher, and a caring individual, helping others when she can. I’ve often wondered if she could have achieved more if circumstances could have been different. But, just as Glenn Holland, her greatest symphony has been pouring herself into the lives of others. Scores of lives positively influenced will be her legacy.
A legacy is “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor.” It is rarely a singular event and doesn’t just happen; it is always formed and shaped in progress. Leaving a legacy is an inevitable reality for each of us, but especially for mothers.
A Legacy of Faith
I became a Christian as a result of my mother’s influence. She not only influenced me and my brother, but her steadfast example of faith believed and lived out ultimately led to my father’s baptism into Christ a year after my brother and I had made that decision.
It used to be that families gathered for the evening meal at the dining room table each night (a reality missing in many homes today). As our family gathered for the evening meal, my mother made sure that a prayer was said by my brother or me, a practice that prioritized family prayer on a regular basis. Church attendance was not an option but was mandatory, based upon scriptural teaching and a priority as a family. My mother was the glue that held us together as a family through her steadfast observance of spiritual priorities.
I’m reminded of Timothy’s mother, whom the apostle Paul took time to write about. Those words are recorded in 2 Timothy 1:5, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Just like Timothy, the inheritance of faith my mother has left to us was not just taught but “caught” through the example she set for us.
My mother has left a legacy of faith that has transcended good, bad, and challenging times. Ephesians 6:4 commands parents to bring children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. She has, and for that I am grateful to be the beneficiary of her legacy of faith.
A Legacy of Hope
There were challenging times during my father’s battle with multiple sclerosis. My mother chose to keep my father at home and be his primary caretaker all the way until the time of his death. Throughout those years hope waned as a result of my father’s prognosis, but my mother’s hope was founded not in the surrounding circumstances but eternity.
I am reminded frequently that the example she set was buoyed up by this eternal hope and reflected in the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17–5:1: “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands” (New Living Translation).
A Legacy of Love
Paul’s great chapter on love, I Corinthians 13, ends by saying, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three but the greatest of these is love” (New King James Version). Agape love, the unselfish, other-oriented love that gives with no respect to worthiness, is the legacy of love that my mother has left to all the lives she has touched. Her love is reflective of the description given to the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, a love with substance and worthy of proclamation at the gates of the city.
My mother is in her late 70s now and her legacy lives on. She continues through faithful involvement in her church and even babysits children of struggling moms and dads throughout the week. Others who have grown up in the neighborhood stop by and see her frequently, some even calling her “Mom.”
I have no doubt that my mother could have had a successful career outside the home. Her talents could have catapulted her to high levels of success, at least by worldly standards. Yet I believe she was successful and continues to write her own symphony in the lives she touches. Paraphrasing the tribute to Glenn Holland, I say: “Look around you, Barbara Holtman. There is not a life you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are the melodies and the notes of your symphony. We are the music of your life.”
Dr. Barry Thornton is the Executive Director/Evangelist of the Salt River Christian Men’s Fellowship, a church planting organization in Kentucky.