March - April 2018

Written By Don Walter
From his column A Minute with Don

minute-with-don-05-18_article.jpgThe headline caught my attention: “You can now buy a home in Italy for just $1.25.” A tagline below confirmed my suspicions: “You could move to a rustic Italian village for less than the cost of lunch—but there’s a catch.” Ah yes, the catch. Besides the obvious issue of my current residence being in the middle of the United States, there was more. Seems the houses are in disrepair, and I’d be obligated to refurbish whatever I bought. But for an estimated cost of $25,000, it still seemed like an okay deal.

But there was the Italy thing. I would love to have a home in the Mediterranean, but I live in Kansas. And I don’t speak Italian. I like Italian food, but there’s a big difference between driving to Olive Garden and moving across the planet to Italy. I also imagine such a decision would require more than a passing conversation with my wife. She too likes Italian food and sunny weather; nonetheless, she loves being close to grandchildren a lot more.

But it’s such a good deal—$1.25 and remodeling expenses! If I don’t act now, someone is going to beat me to it.

The dialogue in my head eventually surrendered to reality. No, I didn’t consider the notion for more than a moment (although I did take a virtual tour of the town on Google Maps). Someone else can have my Italian cottage.

Throughout life we encounter enticements intended to draw us into “good deals” that seek to change our behavior and improve our lives—with little or no investment. We face so many, in fact, that we build immunities to their onslaught, which is probably a good thing.

We really don’t get heart deep
into a calling or relationship
based on bargains, shortcuts,
workarounds, or hacks.

Most folk I know are intrigued by a good deal, knowledge of a shortcut, a workaround, or what some call a “hack.” We like executive summaries, and graphs and pictures rather than narratives, anything that promises to make the complicated easy. I don’t recall any advertiser tempting me to buy a product by pledging it would require a lot of my time and attention and a good deal of my financial resources for the rest of my life.

But all of the things I now value do just that. When I made my decision to be a Christ-follower, it resulted in lifelong commitment, constant attention, and financial involvement. When I made the decision to marry, to have children, to answer a call to vocational ministry, and to serve others, it required all those things as well. Jesus was right when He made the connection between heart and treasure. We really don’t get heart-deep into a calling or relationship based on bargains, shortcuts, workarounds, or hacks.

If I could be indulged the privilege of digression, I’d like to move from the more sublime examples above to some that are less so. Admittedly, they are not as significant as one’s faith, spouse, children or calling, but they impact those things. Specifically, I’m thinking about financial decisions.

There is an area of decision-making I have become increasingly intrigued with, and that is the thought process that rationalizes total inactivity. For instance, reasonable, intelligent, rational persons can recognize that they may not be able to save as much as is recommended for retirement. But instead of doing something, they do nothing. That same thinking may also manifest itself in their decisions regarding life, disability, and accident insurance. These wonderful folks make serious, consistent decisions to honor commitments to faith, spouse, children and calling. However, they suffer from disconnect when it comes to making financial decisions, even though their choices may have grave consequences for their greater commitments.

In the work of Pensions and Benefits USA, we have conversations with people at critical times of life. When it comes to finance, those we encounter usually fall into one of three general groups. The first are those who have adequately prepared for the future. The second are those who have not been able to do all they wished, but took reasonable steps to do the best they could. The final category is those who have done nothing on their own.

The toughest conversations are with persons in the third group. Not only do they face limited options, they usually operate in a state of denial. At the point where they are confronted with the stark consequences of past decisions, they still balk at taking personal responsibility for their own choices. Often, the messenger gets the blame for the bad news.

The longer we live, the more likely it is we will dwell with circumstances of our own making. Throughout life we’ll all be enticed, at times, by the allure of that Italian cottage or a similar deal. But if we hope to dwell in sound circumstances and provide for those who depend on us, we’ll make the tough, consistent, often boring choices—the ones that don’t offer the same allure as a Mediterranean hideaway, but do increase the likelihood that we and our loved ones will be appropriately cared for. One thing is certain—doing nothing will provide exactly what we’ve invested.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.