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Is Retirement Healthy, Biblical or Smart?

March 17, 2010

Perhaps you are unaware of this, but one proposal before Congress is to raise the retirement age of Social Security.  The purpose of this is to help “save” Social Security from insolvency, a condition we are quickly heading toward. Other countries have already raised the age at which their retirees can collect a pension from the government, primarily because of two factors: 1. We are living longer; 2. That first factor is making pensions more expensive.

This article in Newsweek even goes as far to suggest that we shouldn’t give out Social Security until age 67. Do you remember the commercials on television a decade ago, where an insurance company promises you can retire at age 55? Do you wonder why you don’t see those any more? The Great Recession and the paltry rate of return from Certificates of Deposit have all but eliminated that possibility.

But is retirement something we should strive for? When I say “retirement”, I mean the American version of it as practiced now. That version of retirement has several suppositions:

1. At retirement, we no longer have a full-time job.

2. When we retire, we will receive some kind of fixed income (pension, annuity, Social Security) to support us.

3. We will be able to do all the things we didn’t do before retiring because we were working too hard to make money – for retirement (among other things).

4. The money we spend in our retirement is ours to do with as we please. As the motto on the back of the motor home says “We’re spending our kids’ inheritance.”

Let’s look at all four of these suppositions from these points of view: Are these healthy, are they biblical and are they smart?

Supposition #1: At retirement, we no longer have a full-time job. Now this seems to be the strongest supposition, but at its core, it doesn’t have an arthritic leg to stand on.

First, is this a healthy concept to have when you reach age 65? Dan Buettner, in his book “The Blue Zones” studied cultures where more people live past age 100 than anywhere else. One thing he found is that when people stop working at any age, they begin to die. Almost all the centenarians he studied continued working at some profession long after age 80. As Goethe said “A useless life is an early death“.

It is healthy to consider age 65 as a wonderful time to start the profession we always wanted to. The alternative is not pleasant.  Classic studies were done in the 1960s which showed men often died within two years of retirement. The reasons were obvious: They had no purpose and no real direction. Their wives lived on because they had spent years being mothers and wives;  as long as their kids and husbands lived, so did they. Now that women are in the work force as much as men, this will probably change.

Additionally, this is not a biblical approach.  A person might say “well, I will get really good at playing golf or fishing when I retire.” Why wait for retirement; play golf and fish now. Play golf and fish when you retire. But if you make hobbies the focus of retirement, you’re already dead inside. If you check the Bible, you will see that many of God’s best servants did their finest work long past 60. Moses lead the nation of Israel out of Egypt when he was in his 80s. John the Apostle was probably close to 100 when he wrote the book of Revelation. Daniel was still serving kings (and outliving most of them) right to the end of his life. Paul wasn’t interested in taking it easy. For him, to live meant he could serve Christ. When he died, he gained even more.

Finally, is this a smart approach to life after retirement age? When we work (that is, when we have more goals to reach, more things to accomplish) every part of our being is sharpened, all our skills remain honed. Perhaps you have seen football players interviewed just a few years after they retire from the gridiron. Often, they look out of shape. Actually, they have a shape; round is a shape. Why do they get that way? They naturally saw weight-lifting, running  and stretching as necessary parts of the football career. But they struggled to see those disciplines as a vital part of the rest of their lives. Many retired football stars only start to work out again when they get another career (such as spokesmen for weight-loss programs). Groucho Marx, when asked if he was worried that smoking would take ten years off his life, said “I would love to have ten extra years – if I could add them to my twenties.” But you can add those years to the end of life as long as what you do there has value. I have made hundreds of visits to nursing and retirement centers and one thing comes clear from those times: The only ones enjoying life are those with something meaningful to do every day.

Buettner tells a story in “Blue Zones” about a 105 year old lady who collects up magazines and newspapers and brings them down every week to the “old folks at the retirement home”, as she calls them. She finds purpose in serving others every day. She has a stationary bike that she rides every day for a half hour and she loves to swim also. But her Fountain of Youth is firmly fixed in the meaning and purpose she finds in life. It is no coincidence that she has a dynamic relationship with God, and often feels drawn to help particular people every day.

It is much smarter to have challenges which focus our brains, bodies and souls on meaningful goals. Hobbies, traveling, television and napping all have their place, but they don’t give the vital  aliveness we need to make life worth living. If you are not retirement age, perhaps challenge your concept of that time of life. Perhaps, instead of looking forward to a time of relaxation and stultification, you might consider beginning the career you always wanted. Instead of  using the money saved to take multiple trips to Las Vegas, consider inventing, or writing, or becoming a handyman.

My writing mentor is in his 90s and still writing. He gets so animated every time we talk about his latest book, or mine. One of my closest friends of all time died last year in his late 8os. He spent the last 20 years of his life in a woodworking shop. It was a shop he always wanted to own and could never afford to do it until he retired. I still sit on the yard benches he made for us 15 years ago. He would work all morning in the shop and spend all afternoon visiting church members who were sick or elderly. Notice he never considered himself elderly. That is the secret of life: Never retire; just retool.

Next Article: What will we live on in retirement?

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5 comments

  1. This is a hot topic, Mike. I’m glad you’re hitting it with such a great C.S. Lewis style logic flow. I think we, in America, tend to live on “Someday Isle”: “Someday I’ll be able to enjoy life when ______ (fill in the blank).” We miss the season we’re in because of self-imposed dissatisfaction.


  2. Good observation Mark. Btw…saw you and Anna on WE network yesterday: Great interview!


  3. If hobbies involve your passions, they definitely offer fulfillment. I don’t have kids or family now–hobbies are far more interesting to me than working. Without them, life would be dull. Learning, seeing, going…that’s living to me. Work just gets in my way.


  4. Mike, I just read the final installment and I have seen how retirement has been sudden death to many people including some walking corpses. As you know I plan to retire early, very early at age 52. I will have 30 years in and work in an unhealthy environment. I know this was your final installment but… always a but, perhaps you may want to show or share ideas of finding work in a fulfilling atmosphere doing something you may actually like. In our economy, jobs are hard to come by but they exist. God opens many doors for people when they seek to do His will. Perhaps you can post something on how to define what it is God wants us to do with the rest of our lives.


  5. Pegi, finding fulfilling work is what the 65plus (or in your case the 52plus) age bracket is all about. We may not always be able to do what we want, but we can always do what God calls us to do. Good fortune in your endeavors after this job my friend.



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