Don't Waste Your Retirement

John Piper wrote a great little book, Don’t Waste Your Life, (may be freely downloaded here) in which he recounts a retired couple’s decision to move onto yacht, and spend the rest of their lives beachcombing. Piper’s point was, after wasting their lives, what do they have to bring glory to God, seashells?

Piper writes:

I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.

I believe one of the Christian church’s greatest capitulations to worldly thinking is the concept of retirement. Since social pension programmes were established for all workers, much of life has become a scramble to save enough money to survive retirement. When the age was set for workers to retire (usually males), sixty-five was just a few years short of the time they were expected to die. With better health care and worker safety, workers can reasonably expect to live another 20 years or more after they quit working. That is, twenty years without a paycheque. The quality of life depends upon the quality of savings during the working years. That those who have very demanding jobs physically and mentally (such as manual labourers and coffee shop servers) have the poorest retirement prospects, while many who had relatively easy work (this description left blank!) have the richest pensions, is a matter of injustice.

This, of course, is a great burden to the taxpayer, but that’s not my issue here. Much less is it my wish to see a neo-Marxist plan to solve these problems.

My concern is for those who have bought into the myth that the dominion mandate (i.e., to care for Creation, to do work; Genesis 1:28-31; 2:15) is suspended at an arbitrary age. If retirement means a quitting of labour, it is so as an act of disobedience from the God who made us to work. Christians should know better.

Many Christians are forced into leaving their places of employment by a certain age. But employment is not identical to godly work, and being out of the “workforce” does not place one on a twenty year vacation.

Work brings glory to God, and honours Him. I know of two excellent retirees (younger than me), whose industry offered them early retirement. It was a wise decision for them to take it, and indicates stewardship. Among the many other things they are doing now while “unemployed,” both serve their Lord by serving their community. More directly in service to Christ, one is undertaking hospital construction in Nigeria, the other is building and managing a church camp in Ontario. Here are two men, along with their wives, who live as examples of a retirement not wasted.

The Next Great War Will Be Between Generations, and Unwinnable.

As student protests in Quebec show, the issue isn’t really about tuition fees. Quebec has the lowest fees in North America, and after adjustment for inflation, reflect those of about 40 years ago. Now that the protests are starting to spread across Canada, and with the Occupy movement, mostly made up of youngers, it is easy to see the divide: those elders who have had job security, a good lifestyle economically, and look forward to a secure retirement verses those who see only entry level jobs, higher taxes to pay for elders’ retirements, and no secure future no matter how much education is acquired.

Mainstream media almost seems giddy about the prospects of civil unrest from this war—it is a simple thing to draw up battle lines, ideologies of those expecting entitlements and those who think everything should be earned. The real hypocrisy of the whole thing is that no one in my generation (the elders) earned everything they now have. Ours has been one of the most selfish generations in human history. We wanted it all: government programs, low taxes, and the deficit spending to pull it all off. The youngers rightly ask, “Why should we be taxed heavily on our minimum wage jobs to pay for your retirement, since you didn’t save enough for it?” But the youngers, however, don’t have the moral high ground either, because they have yet, for the most part, to repudiate the materialism our generation bequeathed them. My generation believed  mostly in capitalist-materialism, with a socialist’s expectation of benefits, and the youngers assume a socialist, or communist materialism, with no clear means to pay for it. So the priorities might be different, and how the benefits of society are shared are certainly different, but in the end the same problems will remain: nothing can be had for nothing, and no one wants to pay.

We elders began to teach that everyone had equal opportunity, that with hard work most anything is possible. Perhaps because that isn’t entirely true, we changed the story (to soften the ugly truth that we are not all equally gifted) and started to teach that all outcomes will be equal. So we hear children being told that they can be anything they want to be. Women were told that they can have it all: a mother equal to stay-at-home and an exciting, fulfilling career, social life, etc., and etc.

So now at this point, youngers see the elders has having had it all, and passing the bill on to them. This is not entirely untrue. Elders see the youngers as spoiled and whiney, asking for everything to be handed to them by the government, forgetting just how much government-love they received over the years. Youngers see the elders as needing to get out of the way. What we don’t hear so much is what the youngers might want. Do they want the same benefits we had? Probably, and more. Who will pay for it? Their great-grandchildren? That generation probably won’t be any more accepting of the debt than they are. Take if from the elders? That pool shrinks with every day, although with confiscatory taxation, estates can be divided up among the masses, rather than handed on to the children of the deceased.

This battle is unwinnable, because age is not a fundamental differentiator between people. All youngers will become elders. Whatever punitive measures they mete out to elders will be waiting for them as well, in spades. For if the youngers attack to elders, which, has been suggested, extends even to the limiting of lifespans, how do they think a different fate would await them? And only an elder knows how quickly we age! Furthermore, by attacking the elders, the youngers set a precedent, and teach their children to do the same.

Likewise, the elders cannot hurt the youngers—we need them to be happy, productive workers who earn enough for a good lifestyle and who can pay taxes to support us in our last years.

Where Christians need to be in this

I don’t think Christians have done generational thinking very well. The secular world brought us age segregated education, after removing it and apprenticeship from the home, and the church has been all too happy to buy into it. Churches are still the most segregated places found on a Sunday; today not so much by race but by age.

We need to learn to think Scripturally.

Jesus said a disciple is not above his master (Luke 6:40). We cannot learn more from a teacher than that teacher can teach. The youngers will be like their parents, unless a true conversion takes place, and they receive a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26). Christians must present a new way for youngers and elders to live together.

The resentments between generations should not be a part of the Christian experience.

Since I was quite young in the ministry I thought this would someday be a problem. There are many things I didn’t know when I was young, but I did know this: “I shall go to him (old age) but he (youth) will not return to me” (a not entirely invalid application of 2 Samuel 12:23).

I remember seeing a ministry posting in a church magazine that said, “we are looking for a man under 35, with a family.” This bothered me, because at 27, if asked to serve there, I could expect to be dismissed from that church in a mere eight years! This ad was not an anomaly, but was very common then as it is now. But is that a Scriptural approach to ministry? To the relationship between generations? The Bible seems to say that youth have energy, elders have wisdom. Youth is something that, with God’s grace, you’ll get over (Proverbs 1:4, 2:17, 5:18, 7:7). When I see such advertisements for ministers, I immediately assume that that particular congregation doesn’t value wisdom or experience. Now that I’m 55 I’m just as bothered by it, because it switches the world’s obsession with youth with God’s blessings upon the aged.

The battle between the generations is not only unwise, it is ungodly.

 As with all problems the Christian churches face, the solution must be found in Scripture. We must become so immersed in the world view and thought processes of Scripture that we do not fall for the faux solutions and satisfactions of the world.

If you are a younger, remember to respect elders.

1 Timothy 5:1–2 (ESV): 1 Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

If you are an elder, be the kind of person you want the youngers to be:

Titus 2:2–8 (ESV): 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. 6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.

Do you see the relationships here? The elders must never say, “I raised my family, I’m done with youngers,” and the youngers must be teachable, willing to honourably listen to their elders. Being older is something that should be aspired to, not despised. How does that compare to the messages you’ve been getting in media lately?

Those who wish to stoke the flames of discord will push the elders toward more selfishness and stinginess, and will urge them to limit their compassion and mercy toward the youngers. The world says, “The younger generation is a generation of losers” (I think my elder generation thought the same of us). They will also encourage the youngers to be resentful and jealous, “Shove the elders out of the way and take what’s yours.” This is the world in which we are to be light and salt.

Thinking Christianly, we need to understand that retirement is a pagan concept, and no one who is able to work has a right to a 20 or 30 year vacation, no matter how much money they have been given. Christians must re-define aged-ness. Of course some kinds of work has to be curtailed as physical and mental limitations occur, and Christians have a responsibility for compassionate care. Likewise, no younger generation should think that they are entitled to gain benefits without labour:

2 Thessalonians 3:10 (ESV)

10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

Older Christians need to share what they have with the youngers, being money, food, housing, and if possible, employment:

2 Corinthians 12:14 (ESV)

14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.

Deficit spending for decades was and is morally wrong, and older Christians must learn how to compensate for that. The church is the model of that community.

Everything you hear from the world on generational relationships will be a lie. Christians, follow God’s leading.

©2012 Scott Jacobsen