by Karen Gonyer
We’re almost empty-nesters now, and to be honest, the transition has been tough for me. It’s hard to believe the parenting years with kids at home are coming to an end. I’m happy for our kids and their independence, but a little bit sad as well as it hits me they don’t need me, or at least don’t need me in the same way I’ve been needed for almost 21 years. I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about the past. For me, this is a time of personal reflection and evaluation, a pause between one season of life and another.
This is also a time when my husband and I begin to think of ourselves not primarily as parents, but as a couple that is growing older together. Instead of focusing on the past, we dream about our future. We think and talk more about our health, our marriage, our families and of course, our finances. At this stage, our conversations about money move back and forth between regret and hope. We’ve made quite a few mistakes in managing our money (many of which we’ve written about in this column) but we’ve learned a lot from those errors. We’re cautious now, but optimistic about the future.
It may sound strange, in these chaotic economic times, to hear someone say they’re optimistic. I think our hope arises out of a lifetime of challenging experiences in which we’ve trusted God and He’s provided for us. In the Bible, God says “…do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” When we consider our future, promises like that energize us with hope.
As a couple, our financial goals aren’t very complex or sophisticated. Yes, we will continue to save and invest for retirement, consulting with a licensed financial advisor all along the way, but we aren’t feeling stressed out about it. We want to keep working at minimalism and simple living for the rest of our days. With that goal for our lifestyle, we have peace of mind our modest financial goals do seem achievable.
Here in this pause between seasons of life, I’ve tried something unusual, an exercise that’s helping me to refocus and define my priorities
Less anxiety about money frees us to think about other aspects of our future. Although finances are a big part of our planning, money isn’t going to be the most important thing. There is so much more to living than just making a living! We want to talk about “quality of life” in a broader sense and ask each other important questions about our priorities. Do I know what’s really going to matter to me 20 years from now?
Here in this pause between seasons of life, I’ve tried something unusual, an exercise that’s helping me to refocus and define my priorities in a really personal way. I’ve written a letter to my future self – to the woman I will be in 20 years. Here’s what it said:
Dear Future Karen,
As you look back on the last 20 years of your life, I hope you realize you had an important contribution to make to this world, and to the lives of many special people whom you’ve gladly served and helped. I believe you’ll be glad of the many times you’ve invited families or single moms over for dinner, even when the house wasn’t perfectly clean and you didn’t feel completely ready. I hope too you’ll feel good about the many times you’ve given generously when you’ve seen a need, whether with your talents or money.
At the same time, I hope you’ve taken care of yourself, that you’ve nourished yourself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I have no doubt you’ve enjoyed sewing every chance you got, crossed quite a few things off your bucket list, and achieved your personal goals to travel and to spend lots of uninterrupted, quality time with those you love. I hope you’ve often chosen to put away the cell phone and “screens” and chosen instead to bring out board games and coffee, that you’ve picked up the phone when you got the feeling you should, and made that phone call to someone who was lonely.
I hope you’ve taken the opportunity to spend time with family—your aging parents and relatives as well as your husband and kids. I’m sure you’ve sat down regularly with Ken and set goals together, carefully thinking through where you wanted to be financially and how you were going to get there. I hope you’ve worked hard on the things that mattered to you and that through it all, you didn’t sweat the small stuff. I believe you’ll be happy to have lived the life you wanted and not what others expected of you. I hope you haven’t worried about what others thought of you, and that you’ve forgiven yourself and others freely and haven’t allowed unforgiveness to ruin your life.
Most of all, Karen, I hope that you’ve kept your heart open to God and continued to recognize His enduring love for you. I hope your life has been an example of someone who trusted God.
Karen from 2017
As another new year approaches, what would it be like to skip the New Year’s Resolutions and try this letter-writing exercise for yourself? What would you say to a future version of yourself? What will make the next year – or the next 20 years—an expression of what you really value? Write a letter and tell yourself your hopes and dreams. Then begin, day by day, to do something that will make them come true.
Ken and Karen Gonyer live in Broadway, VA. Email your response or questions about life and money to firstname.lastname@example.org.