In my previous blog series, I talked about finishing well in a ministry assignment. But finishing well can also refer to finishing a career, and in our case, finishing a missionary career. Does retirement have a place in finishing well? Various voices answer the question differently. Some reject retirement. Others embrace it. Yet, many wish to modify the popular image of retirement as an endless vacation.
In this post, I will explore some realities and perspectives on retirement. In so doing, I will make a case that retirement has a place in finishing well.
Energy Levels Decline
In the series on finishing well in a ministry assignment, I used the illustration of a relay race. Interestingly, relay teams do not stay together very long. There comes a time when a runner cannot keep the pace of the rest of the team. So the runner retires from the team.
In a similar way, as we age we find our energy levels declining. This is a reality of aging that indicates retirement may be appropriate. D. A. Carson points out the most important lesson passed on to him by a few senior saints:
Provided one does not succumb to cancer, Alzheimer’s, or any other seriously debilitating disease, the first thing we have to confront as we get older is declining energy levels. Moreover, by “declining energy levels” I am referring not only to the kind of declining physical reserves that demand more rest and fewer hours of labor each week, but also to declining emotional energy without which it is difficult to cope with a full panoply of pastoral pressures. When those energy levels begin to fall is hugely variable (at age 45? 65? 75?), as is also how fast they fall. But fall they will! It follows that as one attempts at age 85 to do what one managed to accomplish at age 45, a lot will be done badly.D. A. Carson, “On Knowing When to Resign,” Themelios 42.2 (2017) p. 255.
So, the reality of aging calls for a reduction in workload. Carson is not calling for a “carefree retirement.” Rather, he calls that “sub-Christian.” (p. 256). Yet, declining energy levels lead us “to stop doing some things so that with one’s remaining energy one can tackle the remaining things with enthusiasm and gusto” (p. 256).
Balancing Rest and Service
The popular image of retirement as a perpetual vacation simply does not satisfy. In fact, C.J. Cagle reports that “25% of baby boomers aren’t satisfied with retirement.” (Reimagine Retirement, kindle loc. 485). Moreover, pursuing pleasure leaves one empty. Add to that uncertainties about finances and more discouragement follows. Jeff Haanen notes:
Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality writes, “Retirement is an illusion because those who can afford the illusion are disillusioned by it, and those who cannot afford the illusion are haunted by it.Jeff Haanen, An Uncommon Guide to Retirement, p. 24.
Some counter the perpetual vacation view by resisting retirement altogether. However, the thought of working until we die is discouraging in light of our declining energy levels. Jeff Haanen comments:
Retirement as a never-ending vacation may indeed be less than God’s intent for his people, but so is an exhausted soul. A Christian perspective on retirement needs more than “never retire, keep working.” It needs a restoration of work, rest, and service that matters over a lifetime.An Uncommon Guide to Retirement, p.26, 27.
Start with a Sabbatical
One of the most helpful suggestions I found in the literature was to begin retirement with a sabbatical (An Uncommon Guide to Retirement, p. 33-52). Jeff Haanen writes:
Today baby boomers and Gen Xers are questioning whether a vacation attitude toward retirement can answer questions about purpose, identity, and deep rest after thirty or forty years without more that two weeks off annually.
Retirees need more than a vacation or a premature jump back into the workforce. Instead, the early years of retirement provide the perfect time to take a much-needed sabbatical.An Uncommon Guide to Retirement, p. 34.
In a similar way, C. J. Cagle spends a chapter exploring the cycle of work and rest in the Bible.1 (Reimagine Retirement, chapter 2) An unrushed sabbatical allows reflection on a life of ministry. Additionally, such memories fuel our thoughts as we discern the Lord’s leading for our retirement. In short, a sabbatical provides the framework to discern identity and calling in retirement as well as opportunities for investing in the next generation. I will explore these in the next two posts.
Favorite books on Retirement
C. J. Cagle, Reimagine Retirement: Planning and Living for the Glory of God. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2019.
Jeff Haanen, An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2019.
Future Posts in this Series
- Identity and Calling in Retirement
- Coaching and Mentoring in Retirement
- Dying and the Hope of Glory