The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.– Nelson Henderson
One of the perils of living an imprudent life is that you fail to properly cultivate everything you have been entrusted with. In fact, many times you do not see that you have been entrusted things in the first place. Successive generations of this leads to a much weaker community and civilization, just as the failure to tend to a garden leads to lesser (or no!) fruits during the harvest. The proper care for these things, stewardship, is critical for the success of us as individuals and communities.
In order to be prudent stewards of what we have been given, we must first realize that we have, in fact, had things bestowed upon us. It is easy to relegate stewardship to the realm of personal finance, yet that is merely one area that we must exercise wise action in. Take time to think about your roles in life – that is where you will find areas to practice virtuous stewardship. If you are a husband, you are entrusted with the care of your wife and household. If you are a manager, you are entrusted with the bottom line of a company and the well-being of her workers. If you are none of these things, you are nevertheless entrusted with the care and appearance of your broader community.
I may be in the minority on this next point, but once you have discovered the true extent of your stewardship, you must then give thanks for each of them. Gratitude is a term often misunderstood in modern times. It’s typically seen as a state, a feeling of goodwill. That cannot be further from the truth. Nowhere in the Bible or Church Fathers,in Classical or Medieval Philosophy do we see this call to merely feel gracious; instead, we find ourselves called to give thanks. This distinction is critical because we must recognize that living a good life is not dependent on our feelings. Living prudently requires decisive action.
To give thanks for something is to realize what Boethius learned the hard way in his Consolation of Philosophy: ol’ Fortuna bestoweth and she also taketh away. Whether what we have stewardship over is bestowed upon us (our life, community roles, etc.) or we participate in its acquisition (our children and spouse, our job and financial oversight, etc), we can lose these precious things in an instant just as Job did. The act of giving thanks is the act of recognizing the value of what we have stewardship over. This simple deed, done consistently, can be the difference between good stewardship and poor stewardship.
So, if stewardship is something whose well-being we have control over and is something that does or should have value for us, is there anything else that separates good stewards from poor stewards? Yes. Ultimately, good stewardship depends on humility.
To be a humble steward means two things. First, that we cast off selfishness and put the well-being of others before our own. A good, prudent steward is a person who recognizes that he must sacrifice time, energy and resources for the benefit of others. He must tend the garden and plant the trees whose fruit he will not benefit from. This is not only a prudent decision, as to be done well it takes wisdom and decisive action – it is a decision made out of love.
Secondly, it means that you realize that you are not truly the owner over these things entrusted to you. The definition of a steward is one who manages or is responsible for certain people or items. He is not the owner but rather than manager, but the guardian, the caretaker, the teacher. The steward is one given the clay and must transform it into beautiful pottery for the buyer. This is a difficult thing to accept sometimes. There are moments when we desire the pottery, when we desire to be the sole owner and reap the rewards. This is fallacious thinking though, as we are not able to carry what we own with us after we repose. We may not even be able to carry what we own with us to the end of our life, for Fortune does not discriminate. We will ultimately not be judged by God in heaven or our peers on earth not by what we grasped at and hoarded but by how we transformed and bettered the hand that we were given.
Stewardship links us all together from generation to generation. If all that matters to you is your own bottom line or well-being, your children will suffer. Your family will suffer. Your community will suffer. To believe that we can, as a society and civilization, exist as islands that are motivated solely by self-interest is not only to fail to improve on what we’ve been handed but to tarnish it. Stewardship is to participate in a civilization-building process that leaves future generations better than ours in addition to leaving your soul better off than it previously was.I wish I could provide a more in-depth guide to being a good, prudent steward. Unfortunately, I cannot for my own feebleness prevents me from being as thorough. More importantly, as we mentioned in our prudence episodes, there is not a simple guide for every situation. You, the reader and virtuous actor-in-training, must flex your prudence muscles and learn to make the best decision by applying practical wisdom.
About The Vital Masculinity Project
Our goal is to restore classical masculinity by encouraging men to pursue virtue and brotherhood. While there are many competing voices on manliness today, most have forgotten this foundation of character while instead focusing on externals. We strive to provide practical steps for all men to begin their journey to becoming virtuous. Visit our Journal for reflections virtue and manliness or check out our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any of your other favorite podcast providers to listen to rich conversations about them.