Ah retirement, the desideratum of millions of Americans. And in the culture of entitlement of course, if someone takes away your retirement, well, those are fighting words. Retirement is of course a totally modern, not a Biblical concept. The idea that you should be able to live out your golden years traveling around in a gas-guzzling Winnabago, spending your grandchildren’s inheritance, is of course just another bit of nice narcissism promoted by our culture. There is nothing Biblical about it. Contrast this with the words of John Wesley in his later years— “Lord, don’t let me live to be useless”.
We are after all purpose-driven people, and while it may not be all about work and career (and it’s not), when people lose purpose, they cease to find real meaning and fulfillment in their lives. Of course some people think that their purpose in later years is to dote on and spoil their grandchildren, serving as a free baby-sitting service. So, they move where their children are, whether invited by those children or not. This word just in, spoiling your grandchildren through excess candy, excess material possessions etc. is not properly raising your grandchildren. Look up the definition of spoil– it means ‘to make rotten’. It just isn’t good parenting.
The recent ministerial health survey from Duke shows an alarming trend. Francis Asbury used to ask at every annual conference “Who are the worn out ministers?” by which was meant who couldn’t itinerate through a circuit any more. The recent Duke survey shows not just worn out ministers when they retire. It shows most of them lose their sense of purpose and meaning, and the majority of them are dead within a decade. When life loses purpose and meaning, for many it ceases to be much worth living, worth the ongoing battle vs. aging.
What is needed throughout life, as I have argued at length in my Kingdom perspectives books for Eerdmans, is a healthy balance between worship, work,rest,play,study, relating and so on. See my book entitled Work, and The Rest of Life. If one has retired from one’s profession, then it is time to go do more full-time work for the Lord, which can take a zillion forms. Christians never cease to be servants of the Lord, and in later life this may mean being a nursing home visitor, a hospice worker, a food pantry stocker, a church greeter, etc. All of this is meaningful work for the Kingdom.
One thing that we need to get out of our minds as Christians is the notion that ‘if I don’t get paid, then it isn’t worth doing, it can’t be very important’. Really? Loving someone is not usually remunerative work but it is the most important work we are called, indeed commanded by God to do– love neighbors, love fellow believers, love even our enemies. I disagree with the ‘no pay, not important’ mantra. It just means our crazy mixed up culture doesn’t value that sort of work like they should. Some of the most vital things we can do in life, including in later life do not provide monetary remuneration, and that’s o.k. Purpose and meaning do not only come from paying jobs. And just because you are getting paid, doesn’t mean you are doing good and godly, purposeful work.
Doubtless the card dealer at the blackjack table in Vegas is doing remunerated work, but since gambling is an addictive sinful activity, it is not good or godly work. What’s wrong with gambling? Think about it for a minute from a Christian perspective on work: 1) it is trying to get an enormous return on a very small investment. In other words, it violates the most basic notions of commensurability between the value of the work, and the pay one gets for doing it. The brain surgeon, quite rightly should be paid a good deal more than the street sweeper for working the same number of hours. The gambler wants to get a reward he has not even begun to earn. It’s ridiculous. 2) for the growing number of OCD people in our culture, gambling is negative addictive behavior. It reinforces our worst personality traits— obsessing about something that is not important, and of no long term benefit to society. 3) Gambling, in the form of lottery tickets, unfortunately strips the most vulnerable members of our society of what little resources they have. It takes food out of the mouths of poor children, clothes off of the backs of indigent, and so on. Like alcoholism, it is a disease which has ruined many families, especially the marginal ones.
So what should we think about what the Bible does say about rest, as opposed to retirement? It says we need it every day! It says it is good to have several days in a row to recharge one’s batteries. It suggests that our culture is upside down in focusing on youth, and ignoring the wisdom of the elderly. Suppose there were consulting firms for Christians where older Christians spent their golden years helping younger Christians figure out how to live good and godly, healthy and wise lives that finds the balance of work, rest, play, relating, studying, worshipping? What a concept.
The funny thing about going to a graveyard and seeing RIP everywhere is that those folks are not resting! Go back and read Rev. 6. The saints under the altar in heaven are cranky and complaining. Resting they are not. And as for the dead who are headed for a negative afterlife, go read Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.19-31. They are REALLY not resting easy!
As it turns out, the modern American concept of retirement, of resting on one’s laurels, of living a life of nothing but leisure and entertainment, is not a Biblical or Christian idea at all. All things in moderation would be a better motto, if you want to continue to have meaning and purpose in your lives. And lastly, that Genesis story about God– no it doesn’t say that God rested. It says that God ceased from his creative activity and took time to appreciate what he had accomplished, seeing that it was all ‘very good’. Of course there is a place to stop and smell the roses one has planted, but not as a continual way of life in the golden years. It you’re retired, go plant some more roses that all can benefit from.