This is the second of a three-part series on retirement.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. – Exodus 3:1 (NRSV)
My husband recently told me about a Korean counterpart he met on a trip to Japan. As they were talking, the man mentioned that he was nearing retirement. When he retired from the company he planned to become a farmer. Becoming a farmer is not the standard Korean plan or expectation upon retirement. This man recognized that his career was not necessarily his vocation. While he continued to work in his career, his retirement became a time to fully live out his vocation and still participate productively in his community.
We tend to consider career and vocation the same thing in this country. But my career is something I do, my vocation is something I am created to be. Vocation is a word rarely used in our everyday conversations – unless you spend a lot of time talking to seminary students. But vocation has less to do with skills and more to do with who we are (and our spiritual gifts if we are Christians). One of my spiritual gifts is teaching. I haven’t been a teacher nor do I plan to make this my career. However, it is part of my vocation. I bring this element of myself to everything I do.
Let’s look at Moses as an example. Moses lived to be 120 years old (Deut. 34:7). Church tradition has separated his life into three, 40-year movements: life in Egypt, life in the desert, life in the wilderness. When God called him from life in the desert, Moses was a shepherd. While shepherd seems like an occupation, it was also close to Moses’ vocation. While in Egypt, Moses responded when he saw someone being oppressed (Ex. 2:11). When he arrived in Midian, Moses responded to Jethro’s daughters being harassed (Ex. 2:17-19).
I bet Moses was a good shepherd to his flock.
Moses was about 80 when he saw that burning bush. He was probably thinking about winding down his days quietly watching the sheep. This was as close to retirement as he would get. But Moses was also a leader who hated injustice. While he did not intend to lead in either of the earlier situations, Moses couldn’t just stand by and watch oppression play out before him. When God called him to lead God’s people out of Egypt, Moses didn’t want to do it. But it’s who Moses was and so Moses became the shepherd of God’s people. Moses returned to Egypt to lead God’s people towards still waters and green pastures.
Also, whenever God gives people wealth and riches and enables them to enjoy it, to accept their place in the world and to find pleasure in their hard work—all this is God’s gift. Indeed, people shouldn’t brood too much over the days of their lives because God gives an answer in their hearts’ joy. – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 (CEB)
Now we can’t be too literal with Moses when thinking about retirement. Our life won’t fit into clear stages of career and vocation. And I don’t think God is going to call each of us to some major role in our “retirement.” But Moses wasn’t ready to live into his vocation until he was the ripe old age of 80. Younger Moses responded with violence when he saw injustice. Older, wiser Moses, learned to respond with trust in God and patience for those he lead.
The teacher in Ecclesiastes identifies the gift it is when our work matches our vocation: our heart’s joy. (Note: “Wealth and riches” in biblical times often simply meant that you were not working daily to eat daily; a little breathing room so that you were not destitute if you got sick or hurt. The teacher isn’t talking about amassing wealth and luxury.) Some people are lucky to both discern vocation and bring it into alignment with their work at a young age. But for many it takes a little longer.
There are things that we aren’t prepared to do until we reach “retirement” age. We need the experiences of life to know who we are and where our passions intersect with the world’s needs. Time and toil broaden our minds and, as a result, our compassion for others. As life’s commitments begin to decrease, we may have the time and resources to reach a point where we can be generous with ourselves and share with others.
It would be nice if we had a burning bush experience where God laid out what we are called to do – and maybe some of us will. But for most people who are planning for retirement, we will need to spend time examining our lives, our passions, our gifts and the needs around us to consider how we will use the time God gives us. I don’t think vocation can ever be focused on self. Somehow, there will be a life-giving aspect that contributes to the world around us. And retirement should be the same way.
Fill us full every morning with your faithful love so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long. Make us happy for the same amount of time that you afflicted us—for the same number of years that we saw only trouble. Let your acts be seen by your servants; let your glory be seen by their children. Let the kindness of the Lord our God be over us.
Make the work of our hands last.
Make the work of our hands last!
Psalm 90:14-17 (CEB)
What is your heart’s joy? Does your work currently align with your vocation? If you are planning on retirement someday, how will you begin or continue to live into your vocation?