The Scots have a saying, “there’s nobbut three generations atween a clog and clog. The father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs”
Italians similarly say “dalle stalle alle stelle alle stalle” “from stalls to stars to stalls”
The Spanish version is, “quien no lo tiene, lo hance; y quien lo tiene, lo deshance” “who doesn’t have it, does it, and who has it, misuses it”.
To Americans it’s “From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”
Clogs, stalls, and shirtsleeves; the analogies are varied by geography but human nature remains consistent. All describe a familiar pattern charting the demise of wealth that is as well known in financial circles as it is culturally universal.
The first generation builds the wealth, the following generation successfully transitions the wealth and the third generation dissipates the wealth.
But why? In four words, “Easy come, easy go”.
Generation one worked hard to earn the money. This likely involved tremendous sacrifice to build a small business or excel at a vocation, no doubt fueled by a desire to build a better life and pass it on.
In so doing, hard work was modeled to generation number two who maybe dealt with a parent frequently gone, or one who struggled to find balance between business and family life. Having experienced this, generation two sees the value and feels the responsibility to honor that sacrifice.
To generation three the money was just there. It was never earned, and likely not respected. What develops in that third generation is at best a spendthrift nature, at worst a drug habit or death. Easy come meets easy go, as a generation that never had to work for any of it seeks meaning in “external pursuits”.
Interestingly enough, there is an exception to the shirtsleeve saga. Families that share a strong purpose across generations can consistently buck the trend and transition wealth generation over generation. Philanthropic engagement, a family foundation or strong participation in a family business, can all help build accountability and ownership and construct a lasting legacy.
Your spiritual legacy is much more valuable than money. How much effort have you put into passing it along? Enough to span three generations?
Do you pray with your children? Discuss the bible? Model a Life consistent with the teachings of Christ?
If you aren’t, if you think dropping them off at church one or two nights a week for a few hours to hear the good news from someone else is enough, you could be dooming your children or grandchildren to spiritual shirtsleeves.
The book Raising Your Kids to Love The Lord lays out several key steps to instill spiritual discipline that can reach across generations. Many of which you may likely be doing, all of which should be deliberate.
1. Consistent Living- your example in victories and challenges, forgiveness and accountability, successes and struggles should model your faith.
2.Prayer- Take ownership of modeling prayer for your kids; praying with them and for them. Prayer shouldn’t be a last resort in desperate times, or a pathetic substitute for action. Prayer should be a conscious habit built over time.
3. Give spiritual direction to your family. Statistical analysis indicates a father is the single biggest influence on the spiritual life of his children. If a mother is the first in a home to become Christian, there is a 17% chance the rest of the household will follow. If a dad is, it jumps to 93%. Moms are incredibly important, but dads need to take ownership and accountability on this. Get active. Sleep in on Saturday. Golf after church.
4. Service- writing checks to nonprofits is great, but the act is largely lost on our kids. Packing food for the third world, serving the homeless or doing other activities WITH your kids is the opposite. Modeling service speaks volumes to where your priorities lie. A heart for service isn’t inherent, it needs to be built, modeled, and nurtured.
Dave Stone’s book contains additional nuggets of wisdom, too numerous to chronicle in this forum. I encourage you to pick it up. It is a quick read and can offer a guidebook to leaving a spiritual legacy that will resonate for generations to come.
You want your kids and grandkids to know God?