By now, many of us have heard of Dave Ramsey, and Financial Peace University. It’s a great program, as I share in this video. The essence of Ramsey’s plan, though, is ridiculously simple: don’t spend what you don’t have. It all makes sense, of course, and yet there’s something in us that makes us believe, sometimes, that life will better if we buy this or that – and suddenly we find ourselves harried and stressed because we’ve over-reached.
Fine. Meanwhile, there’s another problem many of us have, and it has to do, not with money but time; how we spend it, waste it, ignore it – to our peril.
On the way south to California yesterday, on the plane, I digested “Let’s Take the Long Way Home”, which is the story of friendship between two east coast authors, their growth in both personal maturity and friendship intimacy, until the whole thing is cut short by terminal cancer. It’s wrenching, beautiful stuff, about love, loss, and the priceless value of friendship and intimacy. It’s stuff I need just now, as the plane drops from sky with Yosemite’s Half Dome to the east, and the “Valley” as we like to say, to west where we soon land.
I make my way towards my mom’s but on a whim, stop at my uncle’s house, just to see if he’s home. He’s so old I’ve lost count, but I know he is at least 94. I knock, and wait, knowing that he lives alone, knowing that just getting to the door can be a challenge. Quicker than I’d anticipated, the door opens. He looks, and there’s instant recognition, which is itself noteworthy for his age. “Richard!” he smiles and welcomes me into his home with a hug. This is the home of countless thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings, the home of spare ribs and home made ice cream on the 4th of July, the home of a gathering after many deaths: grandparents, my dad, my sister. I must confess, though, that what made this home a pleasant place for me over the decades wasn’t the home per se, but this man sitting in front of me now, the male in my life as I navigated college, marriage, seminary, without a dad. This was the man who, himself a pastor, introduced me to Bible study, who has given me some of his favorite books down through the years, who has encouraged and affirmed my ministry calling. Today, as I’m sitting next to the fireplace where I’d sat at various times since I was 9 years old, I realized that this was the man God used in my life when I had no other man. He invested more in my than I realized.
Maybe that’s the way of it with quiet and steady investments. If you knew about my private financial life, you wouldn’t see very many stupid credit card purchases, whereby I jump into an ocean of debt because of some need for new clothes or a big TV. But I’m afraid you might see, at times, an impatience with investments – a jumping ship when they don’t offer promised big yields; a chasing of the hottest thing, but after its already too late. I don’t want to talk about it – it’s too depressing
But I want to learn from it, and not just about money. My uncle tells me that he’s just returned from his weekly breakfast with about half a dozen men. They meet at a coffee shop and share life. He tells me that over the years they’ve shared golf shots, vacations in the mountains, and no doubt, laughter, tears, grueling challenges as they navigate life. His tale of friendship reminds me of the book I’m reading, and and Gail Caldwell who says that “the public life we all see is the published version – but underneath the surface there’s a lot more going on” (my paraphrase). We need to invest in real relationships if we’re to navigate all the terrain of life “not alone”.
I’m still listening. “Do you know what I do every Sunday?” Before I can answer he says, “I go to __ Presbyterian Church at 8:30 (where he served for over two decades) and then I go to ___ Church at 11 (where he served for, I believe ten or more years).” He’s there to encourage the saints. I know people like that it my own church, but perhaps not as well as I know my uncle. I know his personal challenges, some of the tragic loss he’s navigated, along with some great joys. And now, as I’m sitting here by the oh so familiar fireplace, emitting warm memories even without any coals, it suddenly dawns on me that, even in the midst of his own life of challenge, joy messes, he has invested TIME in a way worthy of emulation. Like a Dave Ramsey of the Chronos World, he’s made the right priorities. At 94:
1. He’s still using his gifts. He was always a pastor more than anything – encouragement, wisdom, the presence of Jesus’ heart in some measure. Here today, he’s still that; at the coffee shop with friends, tomorrow night as we gather at our favorite Chinese restaurant with my mom, and of course, right now – in the very moment: “Tell me about your trip to Europe with your lovely bride. You went in, was it June? Do you have pictures? I’d love to see them.” After recovering from the shock that he, at 94, remembered the wanderings of his nephew, I tell him that I have, “oh…about 400 pictures” and he says, “I want to see them all!”
2. He’s made, and sustained, real friendships. I think of the investment model here, of those who advocate for slow and steady investing, whether the market’s going up or down. I think of how badly I do this with money, and how I’ve some distance to go with people as well. This steady showing up, like I see in the book I’m reading, and the uncle with whom I’m sitting, is priceless. And, for some of us, hard. How can we be a nation with enough time to learn the details of Penn State’s football scandal and pontificate about Herman Caine, and say we’re too busy to have real friends. If we’re too busy to make these steady, solid investments, it’s time to get our soul priorities straight.
As we look at the slides, it’s clear that he still understands architecture, appreciates art, knows my children’s names. I want to be this way when I’m 94 – if I’m ever 94. But I’m often trying to get there by swallowing fish oil pills and running the lake, skiing in winter, and climbing in summer. “Move it or lose it” is my mantra. The book I’m reading about friendship, though, and the uncle I’m with in this exact moment, both serve to remind me that investing steadily in friendships is worth a pint of fish oil, at least a pint. (hint: this is a literary tool, not medical advice).
My uncle, in our hour together, gave me a free session at Chronos Peace University and I left pondering the Psalmist’s words: “teach us, O Lord, to number our days”. I think it’s time…for friendship.