I don’t mean to get all morbid on you, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. Over the Christmas break, I attended five visitations on behalf of our church. Then we got the tragic news that the dad in a family we knew from where we used to live in the Chicago area died suddenly. He was in his 50s and leaves a wife and two school-age children behind.
It all served as a jarring but helpful reminder about the brevity of life. I was grateful for the reminder that salvation is forever secured the minute a person accepts Christ as Lord and Savior. And, because one of my job hazards is a tendency to see things through a financial filter, it also reminded me of the importance of having our finances in order.
A lasting impression
At one of the visitations, an elderly widow took my hand and through tear-filled eyes shared some details of their long marriage. She said her husband had become an alcoholic and moved away for many years, although they did not divorce. Not long before he died, he had returned, adding an element of redemption to their story, although she described his faith as marginal at best. Those were the heartbreaking first words she chose to share about her husband with a total stranger.
It made me think about legacy. What will people remember about us after we die? What will come most quickly to their minds as they think about us or talk about us with others?
Of all the family members I met at the visitations, no one said anything about money. Still, I think we would all agree on the importance of leaving our families in good shape — well provided for and well equipped to carry on without us. We would want that to be part of our legacy.
Steps we can take
I’ve written before about my enthusiasm for the study Set Your House in Order, from the financial discipleship ministry Compass—Finances God’s Way. Along with its rich foundation of spiritual content, the study practically helps participants pull together their financial records, making them easily accessible to a spouse.
It’s very natural for one spouse to take the lead with financial matters, such as paying bills and managing investment accounts. If that’s you, how easily could your spouse take on those responsibilities if this turns out to be your last day alive?
I’m a strong proponent of complete financial transparency in marriage. So, in our household, my wife and I have easy access to all of our financial information — our monthly cash-flow plan (we use Mint) and the log-in information for savings and investment accounts. Since I take the lead in paying bills, I put together a spreadsheet that lists all of the bills, their due dates, and how I pay them (some are on auto-pay, some are not). I’m also the one who makes changes to our investment portfolio when the SMI strategies we follow call for a change. This is an area where we could use more conversation about what to do in my absence, so it’s on my to-do list for this month. (We know of numerous SMI members who have made their spouses aware of the option to automate management of their portfolio.)
A state of preparedness
Advent (the church season just before Christmas) is a wonderful annual reminder of the importance of living in a state of constant preparedness for Christ’s return. In similar fashion, it’s helpful to be prepared to die before His return. We became spiritually prepared in the single moment when we placed our faith in Christ. Financial preparedness requires more tending. Perhaps in the past year, we took on a new bill that needs to be paid each month or a new account that needs to be managed.
In one of my favorite editorials of 2021, Austin encouraged us to live, and give, with a sense of urgency. He quoted Steven James, who provided this stark reminder from his book, Becoming Real:
“People die in the midst of going to the dentist’s office or driving home from vacation or taking a shower or watching TV or mowing the lawn or barbecuing ribs on the back deck or enjoying a good night’s sleep…. We all die. And we don’t die when we expect to die or after our dreams have all come true or when we’ve finally made it in the world. No, most of us die in the midst of pretending we’ll never die. We die living as if tomorrow were guaranteed and this life will last forever.”
Somewhere in the back of our minds, we all know this is true. But every now and then it’s helpful to bring it to the front of our minds — to consider whether we have done all that we can to make sure our families will be well provided for and well equipped to carry on should we be called home later today.