What is this? Coming up on 59, I’ve been wondering what will retirement look like. I still enjoy my work. That is good news, because the reality is I am an old parent, kids are expensive so I won’t be retiring for a long time, or so I’ve been advised. Having said that, how is our Christian vocation modified and transformed in this new chapter and in what ways does it remain the same. Elizabeth and I have discussed mostly in the abstract “The Promised Land”. We have financial plans and hope to be prepared. However, retirement seems like one of those things you don’t really know until you get there, you have to see for yourself, find out what works for you. Plenty of church people have invited me in to help them discern “WHAT DO I DO NOW?!” In my experience, those “greatest generation” retirees, mostly men, have the most difficult transition, work had always been their identity. So retirement can be a time of loss, they are looking for something to give them purpose and fulfillment. Some of my marriage counseling is for retired couples who are now both at home and wondering, “why is this person in my space all the time? They need to find a job, a hobby, some friends, or the senior center, in other words, ‘get a life!” I do marvel as some retirees that strike a marvelous balance; service to the church without being an indentured servant, support the grandchildren without being a full-time daycare provider, and travel/recreation without emptying the retirement account. I can imagine that kind of meaningful, family-oriented retirement with some merriment tossed in for good measure.
What does this mean? Over the last seventy-five years, retirement has been marketed as the never-ending vacation, with days filled with golf, happy hours, naps, and leisure. For those that can actually afford that lifestyle, people get bored. In 2019, seniors can expect to live for 20-30 years into retirement. Not only do you have to fund that, but you need to find purpose and community, what an opportunity for the church. When seniors tell me they have served long enough, I quote a favorite Christian author, “You are not done until you are dead”. Scripture is full of people being called to the ministry well beyond retirement age. There is Abraham and Sara, parents at 100 and 90 respectively, Moses comes to the burning bush and gets his Exodus assignment at 75ish, and prophets Simeon and Anna who hold the baby Jesus soon after his birth. I’ve been blessed to have some remarkable leaders and impact players in my congregations, that shatter the sad stereotypes of docile, irrelevant, and bland retirees. The church should lead the societal revolt by calling, encouraging, and challenging our older population to make a difference at whatever age. There is no denying that advancing age brings serious anxieties; losing your independence, loneliness and accumulated losses, and, most of all, death and dying. No question, God saves the most difficult, demanding, and unpredictable part of life for the end. And remember, we are all going to be there. I would say that if the purpose of the church is to prepare every soul for eternity, then the day of retirement to your deathbed are critical and concentrated for Christian formation.
What is the takeaway? Retirement does bring some “Promised Land” possibilities but also some inevitabilities that we do well to consider realistically. Plus, for all the plans and pipedreams you anticipate, things happen. Suddenly, you have a serious health condition or a family member does so you become the de facto caregiver. I know many of you have been through or will be going through those kinds of interruptions. With all the blessings, uncertainties, possibilities, and potential hazards of retirement, you need Jesus more than ever. For many, retirement is the second call, a new season of service, reflection, and spiritual growth, finishing school for eternity. To papaphrase the old Star Trek theme, as believers when a new adventure comes along, we ought “to boldly go” where we have not been before. We can do that because Paul reminds us that, “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s”. That means by faith you are free to do most anything in retirement; take some risks with a new venture, rest when you feel like it (I’m looking forward to regular afternoon naps), utilize your talents, possessions, and experience for the gospel, and remember and rejoice in the family and friends God has given you. Part of our Christian stewardship is to be intentional in leaving our legacy. Yes, your financial legacy to your family and to the church, as well. But, also to consider your relational legacy, how will your children and grandchildren remember you? Who have you blessed and who do you still need to bless? And if mobility or mental issues arise, someone you love is dying or does die, you are going to need to lean on the Lord more than ever. But, the promise is God’s grace is sufficient for you and me from birth to middle school to parenthood to retirement to deathbed and on to the real Promised Land. Take heart, you are the Lord’s.