After a lifetime of experience, it’s time to exhale what you’ve taken in, suggests Christian business federation leader.
“Retirement is unbiblical,” she told me, her fist firmly pounding her desk.
Alice had been the company bookkeeper for about 50 years. She lived and breathed the daily routine, and now that she was approaching 80, she was reluctant to give it up. She believed that if she ever retired, she’d probably just pass away within a few months. Her work defined her.
Retirement conjurs up a wide variety of emotions: anticipation, excitement, perpetual vacation, travel. But also anxiety, apprehension and a loss of purpose.
The closest the Bible comes to mentioning retirement is in Numbers 8:25: “At the age of 50, they [the Levites] must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties . . . but they themselves must not do the work.”
But its worthwhile to go back even further, to the beginning of Genesis to determine that work isn’t the result of sin but it’s part of God’s creation order. In fact, our very first image of God “in the beginning” is a God of work; creating the universe, creating day and night, plants and animals, mankind.
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2).
After God created Adam, He put him to work: pick fruit, tend the garden, and give names to each living creature.
Work is part of the creation order. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” There is delight in work. Work is also worship. It is how we use our God-given talents each day in God’s Kingdom. It is only once we understand the value and the role of work that we can understand the value and the role of retirement.
Is it true that, as that desk-pounding retiree declared, “retirement is unbiblical” (perhaps with the exception of the Levites who had to pack it in at age 50)?
The notion of retirement is a fairly recent phenomenon. The Canada Pension Plan was created in 1965, setting the retirement age at 65. Interestingly, the life expectancy back then was 66.8 years for men and 73 for women. That’s not much of a retirement. Today, someone at age 65 can expect to live to age 90; that’s another 25 years! We’re living longer and staying healthy longer.
It is only once we understand the value and the role of work that we can understand the value and the role of retirement.
What do we do with all that time? There’s the rub.
As you approach your retirement – probably somewhere between age of 65 and 75 – consider taking a sabbatical. A few months off, maybe even a year. Rest, relax, travel, visit the kids, do a few of the things you’ve always wanted to do.
But before boredom sets in, before you spend endless hours in your deck chair or riding around on a golf cart, you need to spend some valuable time reflecting on your life, focusing on your areas of expertise, knowledge and wisdom. It’s also important to spend considerable time in prayer, realizing how God has led you throughout your life, and to be open to His leading during this next chapter in your life.
Pull out your latest resumé or cv and reflect upon all that you have done – your various jobs, good and bad, your career challenges. Create a list of the areas of expertise that you have developed over the years. That could be a brief list or it could evolve into a novel.
Your history will shape your future. What you have done, and accomplished, and even failed at will help you determine how you can share your experiences with others.
You have learned a lot and done a lot in your life. Now it’s time to share it with others; especially teaching and training and mentoring the next generation.
When our oldest daughter began her new career as a teacher after graduating from college, she was clearly nervous. I told her that, after all of those years of education and training, she simply had to “learn to exhale.” Just breathe all of that knowledge over those children.
That’s what retirement can become for you. After decades of learning, doing and experiencing life, it is now time to simply exhale – breathe all of your knowledge over younger men and women as they shape their careers.
There is, however, something even more important to share with others. It’s your spiritual journey. It’s about how God has shaped you and molded you and walked with you throughout your life. Tell them your story. It’s invaluable.
As you mentor and train others, teach them your Christian perspective on leadership, on stewardship, on the right way to treat employees. Teach young men and women the importance of balancing work and family. Remind them that their treasure is in heaven, not in the accumulation of wealth or toys or real estate.
Most of us can expect to live 20 to 30 years after we reach retirement age. That's an entire career! Prayerfully take a sabbatical to determine where God wants you to serve next and who you should be mentoring. Then approach this new chapter in your life with the same zeal that you had in your former career. Except that now you will have the benefit of wisdom and experience. More importantly, you will have the benefit of walking with God throughout your life, feeling his presence as you made those thousands of good and bad decisions.
It’s time to exhale.
Keith Knight of Guelph, Ont., is executive director of the Canadian Christian Business Federation (www.ccbf.org).