It’s a familiar scene made even more so by movies and novels: the reading of the last will and testament. The somber family is seated quietly around the table in the law office. The attorney reaches down into his briefcase and pulls out the file. He puts on his glasses, clears his throat and starts slowly reading the wishes of the deceased. Of course, in the back of every mind is the obvious question, “How much did he leave me?” It’s not unnatural or even greedy. It’s pretty normal behavior. Everyone has some vague notion or hope, and then the attorney says, “Your father left a sprinkling trust” and closes the file.
What in the world is a “sprinkling trust?” Whoever heard of such a thing? What does that mean for all of us?
Well, as many attorneys and financial professionals reading this know, a sprinkling trust is an instrument that allows the trustee of the estate to have broad latitude in how the assets of the estate are gifted. They have the power to decide how funds will be distributed to inheritors.
Instead of a lump sum settlement, this trust allows the trustee to use their discretion about when inheritors are most ready to receive funds or when there is a special need. They can either set up a fixed schedule of gifts based on age or simply use their judgment about when to make the gifts.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about how the image of “heir” and “inheritor” is used in Scripture. Many of us have in our minds the lump sum image, I believe. Male heirs in the Old Testament received the entire estate when their father died. It was not parceled out to them. It was pretty much a zero sum game. All or nothing at all.
However, as I have thought about my life and others, it has been more like a sprinkling trust than a lump sum. It has been layers of disbursements over time.
When I was young God gave me experiences of travel and adventure that have been the platform for much of what I have done later in life. It was not only the adventure but the realization that taking the opportunities to be with diverse people and endure discomfort was a gift. While my parents likely did not consider my hitchhiking across the country as a gift, I now do. Yes, times were different then and I would not recommend it to anyone but, still, it became the well from which I’ve drawn many stories.
In my mid-30s, I had the gift of challenging work in sometimes difficult circumstances. Looking back now I can see that hardship and exposure to conflict was a gift.
In my mid-40s, it was the gift of being encouraged to build a network of relationships and exposure to people, ideas, and organizations that I could never have done on my own or when I was younger. For that, I am grateful to Bob Buford.
In my 50s and early 60s, it was international travel and connecting the dots through the growth of The Gathering.
Now, in my 70’s it is what Erik Erikson coined “the period of generativity” or John Gardner wrote about as the challenge of self-renewal. What is the best use of the gifts that have been decades in accumulating?
I could not have received these as a “lump sum.” They had to be distributed in layers gradually over the course of my life. It’s not that I necessarily would have misspent or squandered them. I simply would not have known how to invest, benefit from, and use them all at once.
Maybe the same is true in your life? Things have come in stages and God’s “sprinkling trust” over years has not only made it possible for you to grow but each gift has prepared you for the next.
It’s easy – but mistaken – to assume at this stage of my life that all the gifts have been distributed by now and the challenge is simply to conserve and protect. No, there is always a future gift. The next gift doesn’t require making a radical change or going in a different direction. It only means I am thinking about how all these gifts along the way have prepared me for what lies ahead. It means being grateful for God’s wisdom in sprinkling these gifts over an entire lifetime.
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