When you hear the word “retirement”, what comes to mind? Here are a few fun perspectives I’ve found:
- The best time to start thinking about your retirement is before the boss does.
- I am currently unsupervised. I know, it freaks me out too, but the possibilities are endless.
- Retirement is waking up in the morning with nothing to do and by bedtime having only done half of it.
- Retirement is like one big sick day without the sick pay.
- A retired husband is often a wife’s full-time job.
- Retirement: It’s not the end of your life, it’s the end of your bank account.
- Retirement is wonderful. It’s doing nothing without worrying about getting caught at it.
- We all aspire to retire, and then what?
- God’s retirement plan is out of this world.
Hmmm, please read that last one again. I think there might be a couple of different angles to it. First, you could read it to mean that God’s retirement plan is not of this world and has eternal ramifications. Or, you could read it and decide that His retirement plan is fantastically wonderful! Or maybe you read it and think that God doesn’t have a plan for this world on retirement, that it’s a man-made phenomenon. Perhaps it is a combination of all three?
What Does God Have to Say About Retirement?
Regardless of how you interpret it, it does trigger another question – – what does God have to say about retirement? Well, the Bible does not explicitly talk broadly about retirement, but it does speak to aging, seasons of life, and responsibilities changing. Consider these verses:
- Numbers 8:23-26 “The Lord said to Moses, “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.” Here, and only here in Scripture, is it explicitly mentioned that people move aside from their primary responsibility at a certain age, similar to what we would call retirement. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to stop working.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” This is one of several verses with the principle of preparing for the future, in this case, setting aside some savings.
- Job 12:12 “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” One among many verses aligning wisdom / understanding and aging. So many ways for that wisdom to be applied in this world!
If you were to do a Google search about retirement and Scripture, you’d find many more verses akin to the ones I shared above. You’d also find many articles written by pastors and theologians, with most of them exhorting us to utilize the gifting, skills, abilities, and experiences we’ve accumulated over our lives and not letting them go to waste in our later years. Yes, our jobs may change, but our willingness to serve others should be simply calibrated and adapted to our physical capacities. Our opportunities to serve others never end.
Ok, so hopefully we’re aligned at this point that our work never ends, and Scripture gives us some general principles around seasons of life. We also know our societal culture constantly points toward retirement as merely a time of comfort and leisure (mentioned nowhere in Scripture).
Adapting Our Work to Fit His Calling and Our Aging
So, how do we ascertain the timing of “when” might be the right time to “retire”, or, as we’ve covered, adapt our work to fit His calling and our aging?
A couple years ago, I ran into a gentleman who had retired at age 52. I asked him how he determined the timing of his change in employment. He said that it was hard to explain, but “you’ll know.” I admired his intuition, but I wasn’t very satisfied with that answer.
Other people and literature talk quite a bit about being financially prepared, and when the math works, then that’s the right time. That answer doesn’t work for me either, as I’ve experienced quite a few times in life that math doesn’t provide the answers for everything.
A good friend of mine shared three questions with me that, when triangulated, provided some interesting insights about timing for retirement:
- Have you had enough? Has your energy and appetite for your current employment run its course?
- Do you have enough? Have you accumulated enough financially to provide for yourself and your family if you change employment?
- Will you have enough to do? Have you gained clarity with your life purpose on what productively working could look like post regular employment?
If the answers to any of those three questions don’t come easily, then more thought and preparation is probably in order.
Those are the earthly suggestions I would give. Supernaturally, if the Holy Spirit is telling you to do something, then by all means, be obedient to His direction.
During the rest of October, we’re going to explore further this notion of retirement, and build off of what we’ve started here. We will be covering these questions, in addition to others, in the next few weeks:
- When and how should I tell others about retiring?
- What if I never feel compelled to retire?
- How should I manage my expectations for retirement?
- How can I figure out what I will do during retirement?
Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.