In the wake of the recent recession, or “economic downturn” of 2008, I’ve heard, read and thought a lot about my financial future. Watching my RRSPs plummet 35% overnight made me question the security of that future. Will I have enough to retire? When might that be? Will I be able to avoid being a burden to my kids as they get established with their own families? In addition to that, this video encouraged me to explore the whole concept of retirement:
Before heading to the Bible, I wanted some historical background and a definition. Wikipedia describes it like this:
In most countries, the idea of retirement is of recent origin, being introduced during the 19th and 20th centuries. Previously, low life expectancy and the absence of pension arrangements meant that most workers continued to work until death. Germany was the first country to introduce retirement in the 1880s… Today, retirement with a pension is considered a right of the worker in many societies, and hard ideological, social, cultural and political battles have been fought over whether this is a right.
What I suspected was confirmed. Retirement is a recent construct, a concept only 130 years old. As a new concept it has made heavy inroads. Many consider it a right, and demand that the government make it so. In western nations, the idea has become infused with capitalism, going deeper by addressing our wants and desires. We now believe “we deserve it”. Actually, we don’t just deserve retirement, we deserve a great one. A retirement filled with leisure and the finer things in life. I hear and see this message everywhere and as appealing as it is, it just doesn’t sit right.
When looking at what’s really important in life, most will agree that “stuff” doesn’t matter. I imagine that many would spout “you can’t take it with you” quickly. Yet these principles removed from faith make them meaningless. If there is no life after this one, then I want to enjoy the best of this life. If the money I make is MINE, then my retirement need only be about me and what I want after I’ve hung up my work boots. My own discovery is that I often view retirement this way and am recently more aware of how seriously flawed that view is.
I’m aware that as someone who faces another 30+ years of work before retirement makes me less qualified to write on this topic. It’s easy for me to point to others and judge their retirement without even being close to that milestone myself. At the same time, if I’m supposed to be preparing for it already, then I should know my goals.
My current situation is very different from those in or nearing retirement. I’m in my early 30′s and life just seems to get more and more expensive. We try to save, and even put a little away for our retirement, but as I look ahead, I see our expenses only rising for the forseeable future. No matter how stewardly or responsible we try to be with our money, I still can’t help feel we’re failing in the “save for retirement” category.
Like most worries, they are a result of me trying to control the uncontrollable. So I’ve made a conscious decision to stop worrying about it. I know I need to plan and save for the future. I also should not squander what I’ve been given for that future on fleeting pleasures today. I’m not advocating for ignoring responsibility, but there has to be something more than a comfy living after work with no purpose other than self-enjoyment. Something bigger and better than any retirement I could ever dream up. I catch a glimpse of that vision in this verse:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”
To accept this means I have to look beyond retirement. My energy, effort and focus should point towards a future in heaven, not here on earth. Yes, I have to work to make a living, and yes I need to save so I can slow down or finish work when my physical body can’t continue. But beyond that, do I really think about making deposits into a heavenly account? Can I really “save” for my future in heaven? The Bible says we can.
I think it’s clear if you believe in grace, that this verse is not about earning your way into heaven. Getting there is not about what I can do. But once I believe in the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, God gives me His spirit and good works are the fruit of my faith. They are always tainted by my imperfection, but they, like me can be redeemed. They are not worthless. And notice they are called good WORKs? How do these fit in with the concept of retirement?
I’ve come to believe that retirement as we see it in the west, is an unbiblical concept. It takes one thing – money – and makes it the ultimate focus. Money will provide security. Money will allow me to do the things I want. Money will take care of me. All of that says “it’s mine”. What I’ve earned. What I’ve saved. What I’ve worked hard for. But none of it’s mine. And if none of it’s mine, and I don’t deserve any of it, then that’s going to change how I manage it – on his behalf. It’s going to impact both accounts at the same time – my retirement savings, and my treasures in heaven.
Earthly retirement separates life from work. As if when we’re working, we’re not living. But nowhere does God tell me that I will rest from my labour by relaxing until I die. Nowhere does it mention that my work will be done and I can live a life of leisure. Life is made up of all different kinds of WORK and it will never be done. We were designed for work, not leisure. Rest is important, but only so much as it enables us to do our work. If we’re able at some point to be able to stop working to make a living, that’s a blessing. The question is, what will I DO with it?
My life’s goals cannot hinge or rest on making my future comfortable. They need to be so much bigger than that. I need to stop separating work from life. My whole life is work. There’s important work to be done. At my job, at home, in the church, in the community… Retirement is one-dimensional, and largely self-serving. When we consider our whole lives and our purpose, we will never retire.
In that context, finishing with official employment is only another phase in the race. Retirement is more of a milestone than a state of being. It’s not the finish line. It’s another chapter. Some will reach it sooner. Others may never reach it. Like all phases, we should prepare as best we can. But maybe a better question is, what is my post-retirement plan?