The Christian worldview challenges ordinary thinking about retirement. A life of endless leisure rarely satisfies. Forty percent of older adults suffer clinical depression. Loneliness and lack of purpose in life are painfully common among older adults. Too often, people reach retirement age – a time that is supposed to be rewarding – only to find it empty and disappointing. A think tank of Christian leaders of retirement-season ministries gathered for a roundtable in November 2018 to pool their knowledge and insights.
Their papers and other resources will become available through a new clearinghouse of information called Retirement Reformation. #RetirementReformation. Near the conclusion of the roundtable, Eric Thurman presented his condensed summary of the message from their deliberations. You can listen to or read his three-minute account.
The message that I take away from our time together begins with the recognition that a lot of people are experiencing a new season of life, which is not only a new season of life for us, it is also whole new status in the history of humanity. Society is being affected by this, because this has never happened before, that people have decades of high functioning after they stopped working, their regular gainful careers. This is presenting all kinds of new challenges and opportunities that haven’t been thought about much before, but are really upon us.
With that recognition, we have been examining and have been critical of the usual pattern of retirement, the usual concepts of retirement…not to be condemning but to recognize that there’s an inherent flaw. The flaw is that retirement is representing that it has great happiness and opportunity for people, but, in fact, is proving to be disappointing instead, because it’s too hollow. It has too little substance to it. It’s not satisfying for a person to live out actively for several decades, twenty or thirty years.
What do we want instead? My mind went to the comment from around year 200 by Saint Irenaeus who said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. We’re asking ourselves the question of what would it mean to glorify God by being fully alive during this new bonus season of our lives?
The idea then becomes one of comparing the usual [patterns of retirement] to what might be. The usual [way retirement is lived out] is really variations on emptiness. We talk about how we’re able to relax now. You can relax for a while, but when you get refreshed, and you still have capacity, then what happens? That’s where the emptiness comes in. We’ve used words like void. That’s usually what people are feeling, and that’s being expressed in the way people are experiencing so much loneliness, disconnectedness and lack of purpose in their lives.
By contrast, the biblical world view – God’s design for human beings – has some of these characteristics:
that we would have lifelong growth,
we would have lifelong connectedness,
and we would have lifelong meaning that comes from living beyond ourselves.
We have common words for that like giving and serving. That’s kind of the contrast that we’re wrestling with and how to implement it. More than that, how to make it [this new opportunity for living retirement] known to people who are not aware of the trap that they’re falling into with ordinary thinking about how this season of life is lived out.