Looking Back to Look Forward

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By Courtney Lindberg, Director of Innovation, ArborBrook Consultants

My father died at the young age of 62 from Pulmonary Fibrosis. He retired as a Lt. Commander in the Coast Guard and had achieved a financially comfortable life in retirement. He enjoyed the arts with friends, traveled internationally and drove a Lexus. By all measures of the world surrounding us, he had done well. But some of the final remarks in our last few conversations told me a very different story.

My father had a financial planner. I distinctly remember this as a teenager from the coinciding of conversations my parents were having during the same season I was active in a school project where we invested in the stock market. I made some poor financial choices in college with debt and it spawned conversations with him about proper financial management. Yet, despite having a professional advisor and his perceived success in this arena, in his final days he felt, in many ways, he had missed the entire point.

In the past I have kept his words private. What was spoken between us in those days, and words he softly spoke under his breath, that he wasn’t aware I had heard, have so anchored in me that I would almost say they haunt me. I stood at the doorway to his room in the ICU, looking at a man sitting in a chair, not eating the food in front of him, hunched over with tubes everywhere, machines humming and beeping, his skin hanging on his bones – and I wondered what had become of this man in front of me? Surely this wasn’t the barrel chested, loud, picture of strength I knew as my father.

His words struggled out from him, his lungs and spirit weakened. “There’s more I should have done.”

It’s too challenging to try to capture all that was said in that single sentence without filling in the details of an entire life. The generosity that followed in the final few days was more than I had ever seen in my life. I could see the joy and fulfillment it brought to him, but also the heartbreak that he had discovered this truth so late in life.

Money, in and of itself, is not the goal. Others will disagree. But it is where we stand. Good, even great, financial management and planning is simply not enough. It is a part of success, but only a part. And the part it plays, from our experiences and beliefs, is that it is a tool to achieve a higher understanding of success. As a Christian firm, what defines “higher” is pretty well mapped out, and it can be boiled down to this: It’s not about your goals. It’s about His goals for you, and the rest of His children.

The closer we get to the end of our lives, the more we begin to reflect on the decisions we’ve made. In 2020, we had a lot of opportunities to question the world around us. Why did we do the things we did? Why are we doing what we’re doing now? It’s existential, but time to reflect is important. Even God took time to rest.

The question is why. Why are you doing with money what you’re doing? There is someone who knows a why that was created just for you and it will shape every decision you make, including the financial ones. Don’t let money be the place where your planning and goals end. Let money be one of the tools to help you achieve the higher goals you’ve been called to. Then, you will join all the others in this growing movement into greater stewardship and Go Beyond Money.