I’ve never written anything (as far as I can remember) about retirement. Come to think of it, I’ve not referred to it much in my preaching either. Stone the crows… talking about retirement would be a kind of admission that I’ve passed my use-by-date, wouldn’t it? Well, the sobering reality is that in another six weeks’ time I’ll have a year of retirement under my belt. That should just about qualify me to do a blog on the subject, surely?
Seriously, over the years I’ve often reflected on retirement life. Not in the sense of hankering after it the way some people do who would prefer to retire at 50 (if they could afford to do that) because after all, work is a necessary evil. No! I’ve reflected on it at times because I’ve seen two extremes and a whole lot of people struggling to work out a balanced mid-way solution.
At the one extreme are those who never stop working. They are healthy and well and they love their work. They have no ambitions to become “grey nomads” or “SKI people” (Spending the Kids Inheritance). Many of these people “die in harness”. I think of a preacher who was still pastoring a church in his 80s till one Sunday in an evening worship service he dropped dead in the pulpit. His parishioners claimed that this was how he would have wanted to die – doing what he liked best.
At the other extreme are those who retire to never work again. And here I’m not referring to those who are forced into this because they have developed a handicap or disability. They just feel that they have done their share of work in life and now they just want to “veg out” until the Lord calls them home. For these folk retirement becomes one long holiday –sometimes much to the annoyance of a spouse who doesn’t quite share his or her partner’s retirement philosophy.
A question that Christians must ask themselves when they retire is: how can I best honour and serve the Lord in my retirement?
Many Christians have prayerfully thought that through and have found some wonderful ways in which to honour God and be a blessing to other people. It’s impossible to do justice to the amount of voluntary work that is done by retired people. They do everything from running a meals-on-wheels route to looking after grand-children; from teaching Scripture in a nearby State School to being an instructor for Crossroads Bible Institute. When my father retired he spent a lot of time as a handyman doing all kinds of little odd-jobs for people – especially for the disadvantaged and elderly. One of his favourite pastimes was collecting old bicycle parts from kerbside rubbish collections and putting the bits and pieces together again, giving them a coat of paint and then selling them off as a fund-raiser for the local Christian school. He and Mum also led a Bible Study group. On one occasion Dad commented, “I’m busier now than when I was still working!”
It’s been wonderful over the years, as a pastor, to put before a retiree a proposal to take up some necessary work in the church or the community and to see such people rise to the challenge. However, it has also been very disappointing at times to have able-bodied retirees decline any kind of voluntary service in the church or the community, sometimes with the comment, “No, sorry, I’m retired!”
I have, at times, marvelled at the selfishness that suddenly becomes evident in some people at retirement. I have no problems with retirees doing an overseas trip or a trek around Australia but when travel becomes the all-consuming passion of the retirement years then it seems to me that something is obviously wrong. Retirement is not all about me! In retirement I have special opportunities to serve God and my neighbour and as a disciple of Jesus I need to prayerfully work out how I can best do that.