At Work

Debunking Four Myths about Retirement

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There’s a growing movement of millennials who are dreaming about (and achieving) early retirement.

Elizabeth O’Brien writes in Money magazine that the movement calls itself “FIRE”, which stands for “financial independence, retire early.” The good news about this movement is that they’re committed to frugality and hard work; the bad news is that no one is quite sure what to do with themselves when they retire in their 30s. Without a larger purpose driving early retirement, the dream loses its romance once you find yourself with nothing to do for 50-60 years.

What are the cultural beliefs about retirement that are fueling this new movement? How should Christians think about retirement, whether at 35, 65, or beyond? Here are four myths about retirement that may be impacting your own view:

1. Work is a curse, and retirement is the light at the end of the tunnel.

Many of us have been influenced by a worldly perspective on work—a view that all work is grueling and to be avoided if at all possible. Work is not a curse, but a gift and a calling from God. Though it has been impacted by the Fall, work has intrinsic value because of Christ’s redeeming work. While our work may look different in retirement, we never stop seeking to fulfill the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28). Hugh Whelchel writes:

There is inherent dignity of labor in the scriptures, and God calls us to labor in his vineyard until he calls us home. Our labor may not be at one particular job, but we have to be actively productive as long as we possibly can, being faithful to our vocational call to glorify God, serve the common good, and further his kingdom.

There are numerous examples of men and women in the Bible who worked well into their old age. Whelchel points out three: John the Apostle, Moses, and Daniel. In addition, Paul instructs the older men and women to work by teaching younger men and women how to behave through their example.

2. The hope of retirement is in physical rest and leisure activities.

Rest and fun are God’s gifts and should be enjoyed as such, but are they are our ultimate hope? Andrew Spencer writes that the goal is not to rest 24-7 but to continue a balance of work and rest throughout life:

The pattern given to humans in scripture is of lifelong engagement in labor with regular periods of rest (e.g., Lev. 23:3). Such a rhythm of work and rest points toward God’s own activity in the creation account (Gen.1:1-2:3). We should rest, but we should not look forward to a decades long rest in retirement as the end goal of our existences.

3. Retirement is a time of reinventing yourself and finding your real purpose.

Work will indeed change in your later years, but your calling will remain the same. Hugh Whelchel writes,

Vocational calling is usually stable and permanent over a lifetime. Discovering our vocation is possible because it is based on giftedness, interests, passions, and human need, which are all easy to identify.

Calling and purpose remain constant even if jobs change. Whelchel points out a biblical example of a shift in roles that was mandated for older Israelite men in the Old Testament. Their jobs changed because of their physical age, but their calling to God’s work continued:

God tells Moses that the Levites–the priests who were charged with serving God by doing much of the work in and around the Tabernacle–were allowed to begin their work at age twenty-five and work until the mandatory retirement age of fifty. However, these retired priests did not pack their bags and spend the rest of their lives at the beach in Tel Aviv. They were expected to take on the role of assisting the younger men in performing their work (Num. 8:23-26).

In retirement, you continue to live out your God-given calling, yet there still may be some self-discovery that occurs. I’ve heard friends in their 60s state that they’re still figuring out what they want to do when they grow up. We’re on a life-long journey of growth. James Clark reminds us that the key is how we’re oriented—whether we keep focused on God’s purposes along the way:

As is the case throughout our entire lives, the kind of work God calls us to do in retirement will depend on our unique gifts and circumstances. However, in order to be receptive to that ongoing call we must not make retirement into a time of self-serving idleness, for “We do not retire from loving our neighbors.”

4. Retirement means you’re no longer very useful.

Just because bodies age and slow down doesn’t mean you have to close up shop and consider yourself useless. In fact, there is a great need for mentoring young men and women who are hungry for spiritual guidance and counseling. Peter Markgraaff urges us to consider that retirement as a time for spiritual renewal and a radical “reset” to have an impact on the next generation:

…many people in positions of spiritual leadership today are largely fatherless. If not abandoned by their own fathers, there is an absence of fathering. Within the church, this has led to many living with an orphaned spirit, as there has been no biblical model of fathering to mentor, instruct, and teach people the truth of the father’s heart and his kingdom….our heavenly father is currently speaking to a generation of fathers and mothers to arise and shine and take their place to parent a fatherless generation regardless of our age or stage in life.

Whether you’re retiring at 35, 65, or 95, keeping a biblical mindset about work will lead to a fulfilling and rich season of continued impact and eternal purpose.


Editor’s note: Learn more about the biblical view of work that impacts our view of retirement in How Then Should We Work?

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