Numbering our Days

This is the first of a three-part series on retirement.

 

“Let me know my end, LORD. How many days do I have left? I want to know how brief my time is.” – Psalm 39:3 (CEB)

 

Last week, I shared this graphic to the left on my Facebook page. There’s a lot of information in the graphic. It begins by talking about having enough money for retirement but then moves into more of a discussion about what retirement means.

I am part of Gen X, the next generation looking at retirement. The Boomers have pretty much retired, although a few are just hitting 50 this year. (I have friends who are 50 and I would consider them closer to Gen X than the Boomers.) Because of which strata I fall in, I certainly have a different view of retirement than the Boomers before or the Gen Y/Millenials coming up after me. However, I think my faith has shaped my views more.

 

When I began my career, my goal was to retire at 55. I wanted to save enough money to be able to travel and do whatever I wanted for the 25 years after I retired. As a CPA, I created a spreadsheet that estimated the growth of savings along with growth in expenses to determine how much we needed to save. I liked my job and I wanted to be successful in it, but I also saw it as the means to the end.

I think my view is consistent with most of America. In a 2006 demographic survey of the area I live in, the number one concern was long-term financial security. Since immediate concerns (personal safety, employment, etc.) were not in the top six – but time for recreation / leisure was – this suggests that long-term financial security is about retirement and not surviving.

Is retirement biblical?

 

Teach us to number our days so we can have a wise heart. – Psalm 90:12 (CEB)

One can argue that the Bible doesn’t say one word about retirement. I agree with that. It wasn’t an issue when life expectancy was short and you needed to raise your own food or you didn’t eat. As it was until the Industrial Revolution, leisure depended primary on class: you either owned the land or worked the land. The former had leisure; the latter did not regardless of how old they were and how many years of work they put in.

But I believe the Bible has something to say about every aspect of our lives. Therefore, while “retirement” is not addressed specifically in the Bible, it is still instructional for our understanding and practice of retirement today.

 

The absence of specific guidance in the Bible isn’t so much about life expectancy as it is with the wholeness of how we steward what God has given us. For some, retirement has become a time of “I’ve worked my part and now it’s ME time.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with leaving your career at a certain point in your life, nor do I think there is anything wrong with travel or other things people do in their retirement. However, western culture tends to hold retirement up as the goal of life and the time to get what you want (watch any financial services company commercial, or Viagra commercial for that matter). What retirement has become is not biblical. We never cease being a part of the community and participating in the greater good.

This community is not just our neighborhood or the town we live in. A friend reminded me, “Retirement is highly associated with privilege. Most people (in the US and globally) work their whole lives to support themselves and their families. You have to be earning at a really high level to be able to save and live off savings, even for a few years.”

 

I have a 401(k) for retirement and 529 plans for my kids’ education. And I’ve blogged before on my struggle with money (see Celebrating Addiction, Chariots, Horses and Fighting Men, and Seven: Money). I don’t think saving is a bad thing in itself. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, I do believe what I do with my money and my time does not belong to myself alone. It will always impact others, even if that impact is largely hidden by what I don’t do with that money. Is the money enabling me to focus on myself or enabling me to focus on others?

 

And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ – Luke 12:17-20 (NRSV)

 

As I’ve been thinking about retirement, two other related questions have surfaced? As a society, why do we view retirement the way we do, and how has this impacted how we value the elders in our society? I’ll be blogging on these in the next two entries.

Until then, I’d love to hear what retirement means to you – and if you are able to retire, what are hopes for this season of your life. And if you are Christian, how has your faith shaped your view of retirement?

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