by Richard Schaper
When preteens leaving the worship service showed me where they had written in ballpoint ink on the back of their wrists the Three Questions, I gathered that they had found something to think about. The questions were those that a veteran financial planning colleague of mine asks each prospective client. Before even looking at their financial statements, he asks them in person to respond to, first: “If you had all the money that you wanted, what would you do?”
Most people come to a financial advisor to protect and grow their funds, but have never asked themselves, ‘What is this money for?” This is the starting place.
The second question is, “If you had 10 more years in which to live, how would you spend these next several years? To what would you devote yourself?”
Finally, “If you were to die at midnight tonight, what would be your biggest regrets?” This last question often brings people to tears. For we all have truly important matters that we are neglecting. These omissions come to the fore when time runs out.
When in the context of a secular professional financial planning conference I first heard these queries, it hit me like a ton of bricks. “My God,” I thought, “These are stewardship questions! How am I going to spend my life? What do I have this money for?”
Both as a professional financial planner and as a pastor, it has been tragically clear to me that money in our society, far from being experienced as a blessing and a joy, is most often a source of anxiety, worry, and guilt. Money becomes an occasion for joy only when we get it directed in alignment with our souls. (See Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money)
Occasionally a seat mate on a flight will venture, “What do you do?” “I’m a financial theologian,” I may tell them, to which their response is often a smile and a further question, “But what do you DO?” I meet with people like you, I tell them, and help them to articulate what it is that matters most to them in their life—their deepest values, their faith really—and then I help them to bring their financial assets into alignment with what they say are their deepest values, so that their life makes a consistent statement of what they want to stand for.
“What do you want your life to stand for?” is the fundamental interrogatory of human existence. But very few people that I have met have consciously brought their finances into the context of their response to this existential question.
When the connection is made between meaning and money, then all sorts of light bulbs go off. And what had been a burden can become a river of grace and joy and self-giving.
A particular provenance of money management which is often neglected yet especially interests me is that of how we do what Jesus challenged the rich young ruler to do, which is to give it all away. For that is what we each inevitably do when we depart this life—we let go of everything we own. To whom would we like to give it? Family is only a starting point. Family is not all that is important to us. What will someone who sees our estate plan infer about what matters most to us in life? An intended legacy gift is a testimony of our present faith.
The Three Questions that were inscribed on young wrists prompt me to recurrent reflection and repentance. Am I putting my money where my faith is? In the realm of my finances, where do I find joy and the peace that passes understanding? And how does this inform my estate plan?
We only have one chance to make a final statement of our faith and values. This will be the largest gift we will ever make. To whom would we like to make it?
The Rev. Richard Schaper, has spent time as a Benedictine monk, hospital chaplain, parish pastor, and is the Gift Planning Officer Emeritus for the Dioceses of California. His wife, the Rev. Anita Ostrom, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist. They make their home in Mill Valley. Richard comes from a seafaring family and enjoys sailing and fishing.