According to some recent stats, more people are retiring earlier than planned due to the effects of the pandemic. Their specific reasons may differ, but part of what's been fueling it has been rising stock and real estate markets. Quality of life is also often cited as a key reason.
I'm reasonably sure that a lot of Christians are contemplating retirement for some of the same reasons. I have friends who have retired recently or are planning to soon. In my conversations with them, the topics invariably focus on things like Social Security, Medicare, the stock market, and generating income in retirement.
Those things are essential, no doubt. Most of us spend a fair amount of time adding up the numbers and perhaps building spreadsheets or using online retirement calculators to determine whether we can afford to retire. I had to do this before I retired.
Again, nothing wrong with that. It's part of wise stewardship—it's crucial to run the numbers to see if you'll be able to pay the bills in retirement. I've written about it quite a bit on this blog and even wrote a book to help those 5, 10, or 20 years from retirement and don't think (or know if) they're sufficiently prepared.
But as necessary as they are, there's more to retirement planning than just running the numbers—much more!
More than numbers
Before retirement, most people focus on working out the finances, but many neglect the other aspects. They may not spend much time planning how they'll spend their time when they're no longer working—the non-financials of retirement.
The financial and non-financial are separate (but somewhat related) issues. The financials are a prerequisite to retire with the ability to pay your bills for the rest of your life while no longer working for a living. If you aren't there yet, then the non-financial questions can take a back seat, at least for now.
As critical as they are, we need to resist the temptation to become obsessed with our finances. That can be highly challenging, especially if we're behind and need to get to a better place in terms of our financial readiness. Plus, we can be overwhelmed by the realities of all the risks and uncertainties of retirement: health-care costs, inflation, poor investment returns, long-term care costs, taxes, etc.
It's easy to think that no amount of money will be enough to retire. That may be true for some, but for most, it's not. Wise stewardship would dictate that we try to save enough to meet our needs, perhaps with something to share, but not to save as much as we possibly can for as long as we can such that we neglect to lay up treasure in heaven. We have to be careful not to become like the rich fool in Luke 12.
Granted, what is enough will look different for one person versus another, but I define it in my latest book Redeeming Retirement this way:
Enough is sufficient savings to supplement other income to enable you to live with financial dignity, having your essential needs met without being inordinately dependent on the government, your family, or others for support. At a minimum, that means having what you need for food, shelter, transportation, medical care, and ideally some emergency money should you need it, and not much else. If you have anything extra for sharing with others and discretionary spending, then you have more than enough. (p. 195)
Once you have a reasonable financial plan in place, it's time to start ramping up your planning for the non-financial aspects. "Ramping up" is a good metaphor as the closer you are to retirement and the more solid your financial plan, the more you should increase your focus on the non-financials.
Actually, finances are less of a ramp and more of a long runway—planning for that should start early in life but become more focused in the ten years leading up to retirement. From there, once you reach "take off," it's more a matter of maintaining a steady-state: reviewing and updating your plan as needed.
Part of any good planning exercise is to understand the challenges and obstacles that are in your path. For many who want to retire, finances are a major one. But once that problem is satisfactorily addressed (not necessarily with absolute certainty), it's time to consider those associated with the non-financials.
Challenge #1 – There may be a sense of loss
Many people derive a strong sense of identity from their work. As Christians, we know our true identity is found in our union with Christ and as God's adopted children. Still, since retirement typically means leaving a lifelong career or full-time job, there can be a sense of loss.
Some people are in a very challenging or even toxic job situation that they can't wait to get out of. But most experience certain non-financial benefits from their work.
Your experience may be a lot like mine: I went to my workplace for many years (less so in the last few years because my "office" was in another city), worked on projects with co-workers, spent time thinking about and planning for them, and attending meetings (sometimes remote, sometimes in person). And I occasionally got a little stressed out about deadlines and the work itself, but I tried to do good work and do good to others and hoped to end each day with a feeling of accomplishment. I enjoyed the challenges, new learning opportunities, and friendships that came with all that. (Of course, I was grateful for a paycheck too!)
When I retired (which was sooner than I'd planned), I focused on writing my first book, Reimagine Retirement: Planning and Living for the Glory of God.
If I hadn't had that project to work on, with a goal to complete it within a few months, I think I would've had a very different retirement experience in those first few months. I was excited about the opportunity to publish the book with B&H (Lifeway), and I looked forward to working on it most days.
But here's the unfortunate reality: Many retirees find themselves without anything to do to get them out of bed in the morning, which doesn't make for an easy transition. Although they may be genuinely excited about retirement and the opportunities it presents, they may have a sense of emptiness, a lack of purpose, direction, or drive. In other words, no reason to get up in the morning.
Challenge #2 – You may lack clear purpose and direction
If you ask someone why they work, they'll probably say," for the money, of course." But if you keep probing, you may find there are other reasons.
When I look back to my time in the corporate world (for most of my working life, I was an IT professional in the banking industry), I enjoyed many things about working. As I mentioned above, beyond getting a paycheck (which was undoubtedly important), there were at least three things: relationships, accomplishments, and learning.
And as we will these, these things carry through into retirement as well.
If you have dealt sufficiently with the financial aspects of retirement, money comes off the table as a primary motivator of what you do as you no longer have to work for a living. However, the others (relationships, accomplishments, and learning) are still on the table. The question becomes how to replace those things in retirement.
Because God made us in his image, we need to work. We tend to want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to feel like we're working towards a goal, overcoming challenges, and improving our knowledge and skills in certain areas. We want to be doing things such as creating or building something or giving our lives away in ways that will enhance our lives and the lives of others and expand God's kingdom on the earth.
But we may lack clear direction on how to fulfill those desires in retirement. What kind of work (whether for-pay or not) do we want to do? What are we gifted at, enjoy, and can do to serve and bless others that give us purpose?
Challenge #3 – It can be hard to find the answers
Given all the" noise" out there on this subject, it can be hard to find the guidance and direction we need.
Some will say that discovering your purpose in retirement lies within and that all you have to do is look there, deep on the inside. If you just follow your heart, you'll start moving in the right direction. Others look to books, blogs, or retirement planners and coaches to help them move in a particular direction based on their education, background and experience, talents and skills, enjoyments, and future aspirations.
Although Christians may need to do some planning, we should never feel lost and without meaning and purpose in our lives. We don't need to find a new place in the world as we already know who we are and what we are in Christ. We are God's creation and were predestined to do good works for his glory (Isa. 43:7, 1 Cor. 10:31, Matt. 5:16, Col. 3:22–24).
You may have questions about how that gets worked out on a practical basis, day-in-and-day-out in retirement, as there may not be an obvious "next big thing" waiting for you just around the corner.
I was fortunate to have a book to write, a blog that I wanted to continue writing for, and work that I was already doing in my church and community that I wanted to do more of after I retired. The same may be true for you–retirement will mean doing more of some of the things you're already doing. But for some, that may not be the case. If so, you'll need to start thinking about your calling (yes, I believe everyone has a calling in retirement).
Challenge #4 – Worldly perspectives can entice and deceive us
For most of us, retirement will present new opportunities to refocus our time, energy, and resources on the most important things to us. If we allow ourselves to be influenced by the world's perspectives on retirement, we can be tempted to live mainly for ourselves, prioritizing leisure and recreation, when our focus should be more on living for others and the expansion of God's Kingdom.
Those who have heard the gospel and were saved are now being transformed to become more and more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Therefore, God's plan is for us to selflessly bring God glory by proclaiming and living the gospel to the fullest extent possible in later life (Phil. 3:14).
A gospel-centered orientation runs contrary to the modern philosophies of worldly culture and society, which is to get all we can get out of retirement because that's all there is; we have to live our "best life now"—heaven on earth—as, according to the world, there is no heaven to come.
But God's word points us in a different direction: enjoying him by fellowshipping, worshipping, and serving him and his church for as long as we can while looking ahead to eternity in heaven (Rom. 12:2).
I want to inject a caveat here: Retirees are free to enjoy all of the good gifts that God has given us. But we must do so in moderation and never make them our greatest passion or source of joy, which the world tends to do.
Begin with a proper perspective
I have written previously about planning a "gospel-centered retirement." I summarized this perspective in my book, Redeeming Retirement:
One of the main ways is to live a life of kindness and generosity with our time, talents, and treasure focused on others. . . In contrast to the self-centered life, a life of love is a meaningful and purposeful life that pursues self-giving. It's a life marked by the generous giving of ourselves for the good of others. Using your gifts, talents, and skills in service to others, especially in your family, local church, and the wider community, isn't only personally fulfilling and gratifying but also loving toward others. (pp. 202–203)
Beginning with this perspective means that we decide to dedicate at least some of our time, talents, and treasure to serve others in whatever contexts God has placed us in. Here are some verses that can guide us in this: Col. 3:23-24, Phil. 3:13-14; Gal. 6:9; Psalm 71:18; Acts 20:24; 2 Tim. 4:7; Luke 12:16-21; Mat. 24:12-14; Mat. 13:22.
I admit that this can be a little overwhelming. What it looks like will vary from one person to another.
Some will need to continue to produce some income through work in retirement, but you needn't view that as something totally apart from your purpose and serving others. Your purpose can include working in a way that serves others while making a little extra money should you need (or want) to.
Above all, remember that God didn't redeem your life and add you to his family to spend your later years living for yourself. A truly purposeful, prosperous, and fulling life in retirement is one focused on others, not just yourself.
I think there are at least three main categories to use to help think about planning for retirement: physical (activity, nutrition, health), people (relationships and community), and work (for- or not-for-profit, accomplishment, creativity, learning, serving).
There is some overlap in these areas, and each can be appropriately guided and informed by the perspective I discussed above.
1 – Physical
It's a well-known fact that, in addition to the toll that natural aging takes on our bodies, a reduction or cessation of physical activity further reduces flexibility, strength, and endurance.
When you do things that build strength, like lifting weights, your body responds by building muscle. But when you stop, you start to lose muscle. The same is true for your flexibility and endurance. The more sedentary your lifestyle, the faster those things wane.
For those reasons and many others having to do with general health, planning for regular physical activity in retirement is very important. Diet is also a very important contributor to overall health and wellness.
That can take many forms. Perhaps it's doing more of the physical activities you were doing before retirement. Or, you could take up something entirely new. Whatever you do, please take into account existing limitations and be careful not to overdo them. As many of us older know all too well, even minor injuries can take much longer to heal.
2 – People
Retirement is a great time to grow and nurture the relationships you already have with family, friends, and your brothers and sisters in your local church. Relationships in retirement work both ways: you need them, and they need you.
Your spouse and family (children and grandchildren, if you have them) need you in your roles as wife or husband, mother or father, and grandparent. Retirement may afford you more time to focus on these relationships.
You also need them—for friendship and companionship, fellowship and prayer, and assistance (we will all need it at one time or another),
Retirement is also a time not to step into the background in terms of engagement in your local church. It's a sad truth that many Christians view retirement as a time when they can justifiably step back from participating in their Christian community, ministry, and serving others. There's a tendency to become more and more self-focused.
As I am approaching 70 years old, I am all too aware that our age, health, and mental acuity can prevent us from doing some (and I emphasize some) of the things we used to do, or as often, or as well. But though aging may diminish our physical and mental abilities, we can continue to deepen our spiritual life and gifts that we can use in service to our church and others. We can give ourselves to whatever work God calls us to do with respect to serving others, which can include praying, ministering, teaching, mentoring and discipling, and much more (Phil. 3:13–14, Gal. 6:9, Psalm 71:18).
3 – Work
I mentioned earlier that God created us to work. Part of our makeup that reflects God's image is that we were designed to work. And as part of that, we can take on projects and activities that challenge us physically and mentally but are within the reasonable limits of our ability (in other words, don't overdo them, especially the physical aspects).
The projects that we take on can come in a lot of different forms. As I wrote in Reimagine Retirement:
The different types of good works we can do that are part of a God-glorifying retirement lifestyle can be described as creative work, productive work, and service work. While none of these are as important as our spiritual endeavors, they flow from our spiritual efforts and are a part of God's plan for our lives. (p. 180)
With few exceptions, the projects and activities we pursue provide opportunities for these various kinds of work (creative, productive, and service) and the learning and accomplishment that comes with them. For example, the research I do for this blog, and learning in the process, are just as enjoyable to me as writing the actual articles.
Plan for both
I hope you see from this article that there's more to retirement stewardship than the numbers—much more. Planning for both the financial and non-financial aspects of retirement is important. But with all the focus on the financials, causing many to become obsessed with them, it's more important than ever to remember these words from Jesus as he read from Isaiah referring to himself:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18–19).
Not all your financial and non-financial plans will come to fruition, but they are ultimately in God's hands. Still, do all you can before you retire to plan what you will do to fulfill God's purpose and calling on your life. If you do, you will live your years in retirement joyfully and fulfilling and in a way that brings honor and glory to God.