I didn’t have immediate access to the article (it was behind a “paywall”), but I later acquired a copy. That magazine featured it on its cover with the full title: “Saving Retirement: The dream of old age as a vacation has failed us. What now?”
I found the article interesting and consistent with my thinking on the subject, how I treat it on this blog, and in my book, Reimagine Retirement: Planning and Living for the Glory of God. (My book has a lot of practical financial information in it, which is something the article doesn’t get in to, nor does the book it was taken from, other than to point to the financial challenges that many retirees will have in realizing the retirement they imagine.)
In one of the opening paragraphs, the author of the article, Jeff Haanen, who also authored the book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life, wrote,
…as retirement looms for baby boomers, a growing number of them—both Christians and their neighbors—are discontented with current cultural assumptions about it. They’re asking new questions about money, work, time, family, leisure, and a life of purpose.
Challies included this quote as a short summary of the article:
When asked about their overall happiness in retirement, doubts crept in. They reported a powerful sense of loneliness. Even though they had more time for family and friends, they missed the bonds they experienced at work or ‘relationships with a purpose.’ In short, retirement as a never-ending vacation is, for many, much more appealing before they actually try it.
I would encourage you to read the article. I saw several main themes in it—I think Mr. Haanen and I would share very similar views on a Christian’s retirement.
1) Many retirees and soon-to-be retirees are questioning the culturally defined traditional view of retirement, which portrays it as an endless and carefree vacation.
Many people look forward to retirement as an end to work with the means to do whatever they want (subject to physical and financial limitations). They envision endless hours of rest, relaxation and recreation with few responsibilities or obligations of any kind. This idea of retirement as something they work and save for and therefore deserve is ingrained in modern culture. The media and financial institutions promote it because it’s popular and profitable. And many embrace it because it just seems right.
A recent survey of soon-to-be retirees across multiple generations by Transamerica found the top four dreams to be traveling, spending more time with family and friends, and pursuing hobbies. However, the older ones (Baby Boomers) were more likely to dream of volunteering, and the younger (Millennials) were more likely to dream about continuing to work in retirement (new career, starting a business, or working in their current field).
Transamerica found that more than half of workers plan to work in retirement, but other studies have shown that about a quarter do, and not for very long.
The CT article describes what I would call the “retirement resistance movement.” It is based on the idea that retirement isn’t biblical. Who hasn’t heard John Piper’s famous “seashells message.” The article quotes him, referring to his retirement, “Lord, spare me the curse of retirement… Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement… Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”
There is the crux of the matter. The problem with our modern view is that it is not biblical. We may transition out of full-time employment, but we should not accept the world’s view of retirement as a prolonged time without productive work in God’s kingdom (Rom. 12:2). That is a key principle that led me to start up this blog in the first place.
The article says that one problem with the “resist retirement” movement for many is that they “cannot imagine working non stop for 40, 50, or even 60 years.” Citing Ecc. 2:17 and Gen. 3:17-19, the author explains the appeal of the “vacation paradigm” because of “… spiritual [and often physical exhaustion and pain] that can accompany a lifetime of work.”
Fortunately, we are not without guidance here. We see a high regard for both work and rest in the Bible. And I think that is the best way to think about retirement: Periods of work (which is a productive activity or engagement with others and can take many forms) punctuated with periods of rest (which can a sabbatical, a vacation, a recreational activity or leisure time).
After I “retired” about a year ago, I stayed busy writing, tutoring at a local school, and serving in my local church and community. But after about six months and completing two major projects, my wife and I took an extended “vacation” to visit several of the national parks in the West. It was an active time (lots of driving and hiking), but also restful as we enjoyed God’s glorious creation.
That is how I envision retirement—focused on work, but also enjoying some travel and recreational activities at times. Spending all my time in a national park, or at the beach, or traveling somewhere doesn’t appeal to me—I’d rather take “vacations” instead, perhaps a little more frequently than when I was employed full time.
2) There are a lot of questions and doubts about our ability to fund several decades in retirement, and rightly so.
The “Saving Retirement” article addresses this head-on:
Millions [of] Americans are realizing that they can’t afford [retirement as an endless vacation] even if they wanted it and are instead worried they may not be able to afford basic necessities. The author references an article in The Economist which ‘reported in 2015 that the average retirement assets of those ages 50—59 in 2013 were just $110,000, yet they would need $250,000 just to sustain $10,000 a year in retirement income.’
The goal of being “free of financial concerns” that also showed up in the Transamerica survey will be a challenge for many. More than half (56%) of American adults don’t know how much money they need to retire, according to data from Northwestern Mutual’s 2019 Planning & Progress Study. That’s a large percentage of people who might like to retire someday but do not understand how much money they’ll need.
That same Northwestern study found that 22% have less than $5,000 saved for retirement; 5% have between $5,000 and $24,000; only 16% have $200,000 or more. Many Americans imagine a retirement they won’t be able to afford.
Many other surveys and studies have reached the same conclusion: many people do not have enough money saved to support a prolonged period of not working for pay in retirement. Although Social Security and a pension may be sufficient for some, most will not be that fortunate.
That is another reason I started up this blog. As I have interacted with “boomers” my age and younger, I’ve noticed that many are not well-prepared for eventual retirement. It’s also one of the main reasons I wrote Reimagine Retirement. I write about financial planning for retirement in both.
In this blog, I recommend that future retirees plan sooner rather than later. That means taking stock of your current resources and adjusting where necessary. For some, that means increasing their saving rate, if they can. For others, it means delaying Social Security and planning to work longer if they are able.
Then there is the matter of investing in retirement so you have a reasonable income but without taking unnecessary risk leading to loss of principal. It’s much harder than it sounds, which is why income planning in retirement is so important.
3) In retirement, a lack of involvement and engagement with others can lead to loneliness and even depression.
God created us in His image, and we are relational creatures. We need relationships to thrive and flourish. Although they sometimes “go bad,” we still need them. But one of the greatest dangers of retirement is withdrawal from the mainstream of life and decreasing relational involvement.
That is one of the most significant challenges of retirement, for those who experienced a lot of meaningful interactions and relationships as part of their work. If their network relationships and associations didn’t extend too far beyond their family and work—to the church and community—then, with the job gone, loneliness can set in. That’s why it’s so important to have family, church and community relationships before retirement, and to keep them alive after.
A survey of retired Americans ages 55—70 mentioned in the CT article found that “They reported a love of their newfound freedom and lauded the glories of no longer having to commute. Yet when asked about their overall happiness in retirement, doubts crept in. They reported a powerful sense of loneliness. Even though they had more time for friends and family, they missed the bonds they experienced at work.”
Our relationships are also meaningful because they are how a lot of friendship, mentoring, discipleship, and ministry takes place, which can be very fulfilling in retirement. As the CT article pointed out, “… more boomers see that retirement can be a season of unique influence.” From a biblical perspective, “the term elder [is] associated with wisdom, character and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age.”
4) Living “on-purpose” is a powerful driver for all of us, and this doesn’t change just because we retire.
Unfortunately, after work and the “purpose” that came with it, finding a life of purpose in retirement can be very challenging. The CT article talks about a man who, after traveling around the globe, remarked,
“The problem was, no matter where I was, the ‘nowhere-to-be’ thing hit me like a ton of bricks… I know there’s a hole in my life, and I need to fill it. Soon.”
We all need a purpose, something that gets us up in the morning, and that causes us to be where we should be.
Perhaps you have heard it said that retirement could kill you. Maybe you’ve heard stories about someone who retired then died within a year. Death will come to us all, and there could be any cause. And we know that our physical health can suffer because of boredom and from a lack of intellectual stimulation; and more than anything, from a lack of purpose. Because people get so much meaning and satisfaction from their careers, retirement can be a tough transition to make.
As Christians, we have one grand and glorious purpose in life, which is to know God and to love, worship, serve, and glorify him forever. Everything else we do flows out of that. We aren’t called to conquer the world; we are called to humbly serve others. Some will be called to do challenging things in retirement. Still, as another man Haanan interviewed for the article said, referring to how he views his purpose retirement, “‘it’s not about me anymore.’ He says he’s now content to work for the success of others.” The article terms this as moving from “success to surrender.”
5). No one has all the answers about retirement; each of us has to figure out some of them for ourselves.
The good news is that God hasn’t left us without help. He has given us the Bible, which offers us much help in the form of wise guidance on how-to live-in retirement, as in all other stages of life. Precisely what that will look like in your life may be different than mine. But the overarching values, beliefs, and principles we find in Scripture are for all of us.
To paraphrase the end of the CT article: Many older Christians are not embracing a “retirement as an extended vacation,” an ambitious “change-the-world mentality,” or “grudgingly taking on the burden of working in later life.” Instead, they are seeking to continue to serve God and others as elders in whatever spheres of life God has placed them in (2 Cor. 4:16), while always being empowered and renewed by God’s Holy Spirit.
As I concluded in my book, Reimagine Retirement, “There are many paths a person can follow in retirement. For those of us who have been changed by the gospel, our calling and purpose are already clear: to invest ourselves in the lives of others, both within and without the church, and to persevere in godly zeal as we grow old so that we can finish well to the glory of God (2 Tim. 4:7).”
The CT article concludes with this: “Retirement needs a new story. Or better yet, a very old story.” I couldn’t agree more. The story of our lives, which includes retirement, should be a gospel story—a story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. It is a story that God is still writing, and we are living, even as we better understand our frailty and ultimate end. We do not welcome them, but like the doctor (Gary) mentioned in the CT article, we do not fear them, we just keep serving others as if death is no concern to us.
The Bible has told us so. In 1 Cor. 15: 54—57, we read:
When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (ESV).