At Work

Am I Getting Too Old for This? Reflections on Work & Retirement

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Back in February, I had the blessing to begin my Wednesday night class where I teach a ten-week series on the theology of work, using my bookImmanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession. We had one student show up.

This time, since the woman who showed up had attended my class previously, in the fall of 2022, I quickly decided to not go through my book with her again, chapter by chapter. I wanted us to explore some new territory, sort of an advanced class, which I hastily entitled, “More of God’s Presence in Your Profession.”

The first topic we landed on was aging. This is a subject that was relevant to her, my wife, and me. We wrestled with a variety of things in the hour we had. I thought that it would be appropriate to share some of what we discussed here and to dive into this subject of approaching retirement a little deeper than I had in the past.

(Note: I invite you to read two articles I wrote and posted on my blog that are relevant to this discussion here and here.)

Are They Getting Too Old for This?

Have you ever seen someone who seems to be getting too old for the job they hold? For example, since this is an election year, we have seen much in the media on the mental capacity of the president and the other leading candidate. There are valid concerns about their ability to lead this country due to their age. We have all seen athletes who have stayed too long. In the military profession, we often see senior leaders who many believe have stayed too long on active duty and need to retire.

We also briefly discussed why they might do that. Is it pride? Is it fear of the unknown? Are there financial considerations with facing a sharp decline in income if they are not prepared? I can identify with that area, myself.

Is there anything we could do to help someone if doing their job past their prime becomes a risk to others? For example, let us take law enforcement personnel. If someone is still on the job as a beat policeman, can they reasonably be expected to be able to chase down a suspect? Might their diminishing physical abilities put themselves and others at risk? How would we confront them about that?

There are no easy answers to these issues. As we bring these real-world questions to Scripture and look at them through a biblical lens along with our basic understanding of the theology of work, I think we can agree on a few things. We need to be compassionate towards those who seem to have come to the end of their journey. We may need to speak the truth in love if they can no longer fulfill their obligations or function in their role due to physical or mental limitations. Perhaps we need to make more of an effort to help our coworkers, friends, family members, or ourselves better prepare financially for the future.

Am I Getting Too Old for This?

Another related question shifts the focus from others to ourselves. How do we bring what we know about God and the theology of work into our thought processes when we sense that we are getting too old for the job we have?

I have heard many people say to themselves or to anyone who would listen, “I’m getting too old for this.” Fortunately, I have not said or thought that yet, even though I am rapidly approaching the age when I can draw full social security. There will come a day, when I will say the same thing to myself. I can only hope that when I do, I can execute a smooth transition as well my wife did a few years ago.

In our discussion, I put the spotlight on her gracious exit from teaching preschool. She began to notice that teaching these four-year-olds was taking a toll on her back and knees. It was hard to get down to their level and it was even harder to get up. She sensed that she would get impatient with her kids more and more. These physical and emotional challenges were not going away by themselves. They would only get worse over time. What I found so admirable about her decision was that it was focused on others, not just herself.

What is Next After Retirement?

As we continued our discussion, we drifted into another area that frankly I had not given much thought to previously.

What does a person experience when they retire from decades of working? As we went around the room, we mentioned restlessness, the need to find another outlet for their talents, experience, and energy, and concerns about money. The sudden loss of not only income but identity is something that is usually felt quite deeply. Unless a retiree finds something of value to do, they can be a bit lost.

One last topic we discussed was how to overcome the negative effects of the abrupt end of full-time work. We can volunteer our time.

When we leave paid employment for good, what opportunities are there in your community to serve others and God until we are no longer able to do so? What gifts do we have that we did not get to use much because we did not have the time? What is most needed around you? What has God laid on your heart to do?

Biblical Examples

I know a few examples in Scripture where ending one’s career and the subsequent transition were briefly addressed. The first one was positive; the second one was negative. I wish I had thought of these in class.

Our first transition is between Elijah and Elisha. Elijah had just defeated 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kgs. 18:16-40). Afterwards, he ran for his life to escape Jezebel (1 Kgs. 19:1-3). He was depressed to the point of considering suicide, exhausted, and hungry. The Lord sent an angel who provided bread and water (1 Kgs. 19:4-7).

At Mount Horeb, God told Elijah that his days as prophet were coming to a close and that he was to anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kgs. 19:16). Immediately following, we see a solid battle handoff between Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs. 19:19). Elisha accepted the job and began his apprenticeship under Elijah’s tutelage. Just before Elijah was taken into heaven, we see Elisha asking for a double portion of God’s Spirit, indicating that his training was complete (2 Kgs. 2:9).

In my second example, we read about the potential risks of passing on one’s business to another: “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun” (Eccl. 2:18-19). He makes a good point.

Final Reflection & Challenge

Perhaps there might be some lessons we can learn from these two passages. Unlike Elijah, I suspect most of us may not be able to select and train our replacements. To avoid the disastrous results that the writer of Ecclesiastes was concerned about, it might be prudent to take steps to prepare our current employees and the person who will succeed us to carry on the policies, procedures, climate, etc., that we have spent years developing. I know a Christian principal who is doing that with her teachers as she plans to retire in a couple of years. I will have to be proactive and do the same before I vacate my position also.

As I wrapped up our session, I also emphasized something God has laid on my heart whenever I have thought about my own retirement. I am convinced that God will lead us just as much at the end of our vocational journey as he has during the beginning and middle of it. For me, I have always seen God open and close doors, lead me where I needed to go in order to glorify him, and provide for our family’s needs. Because God never changes, I believe he will continue to lead and provide as my career comes to an end.

I trust that you found this to be helpful, either now or in the future. We will all be there someday.

Editor’s note: This article was republished from the author’s blog with permission.

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