Why is retirement even a counseling issue?
A number of years ago, I was asked by a family to counsel a family member who had suddenly started exhibiting erratic behavior. He was not resting much during the nighttime hours but would fall asleep exhausted during the daytime for just a few hours. Also, he was making large purchases, while selling other items that were still needed. What was most perplexing was that this person had been a pillar in Christ’s church and a model of reliability for decades. Now in his 60s, something in this brother had short-circuited. Through counseling, it became apparent that his recent retirement was a catalyst for this unusual behavior. While being employed, he had a routine and attitudes that were pleasing to God. Once retired, the guards and habits that he had were removed, and his heart drifted to making choices that were self-centered and not pleasing to God. Over the years, I have heard other similar stories.
Closer to home, I have struggled with knowing what would be most pleasing to God to do during my own approaching retirement. I am personally reaching that age when most people retire, because they no longer have the health and/or ability to fulfill their job’s fulltime responsibilities. In talking to Beth, my wife, about what we should do once retired, my ideas have been all over the ballpark. Some plans we discussed may have been pleasing to God, but most of them were pretty self-centered even though they sounded honorable on the surface.
So a purpose for this conversation is to consider biblically what God may want for each of us as we think about and plan for our retirement. May this help us to counsel others and ourselves better.
What is meant by retirement?
To start with, we need a working definition for retirement. We conjure up vastly different concepts whenever that word is mentioned. For the current conversation, let’s try this definition on for size: “Retirement is no longer being employed, and God has provided sufficient resources for you to support yourself.” Working a fulltime job as a primary source of your finances is no longer possible or necessary. Being in this stage of life opens up a whole new set of exciting possibilities.
There are a number of biblical values to consider when exploring what God would have us do with the newfound amounts of time and energy, since we are no longer dependent on being employed. When I first started thinking about retirement, I lacked sufficient biblical values to guide or shape my ideas. Knowing that many of my own potential plans were poor, I took a year to read the Scriptures looking for such biblical values to guide our decision-making about our retirement. In this conversation, I would like to talk with you about just one of these values.
To “go” or not to “go,” is that the question?
Retirement might be the time that God has for you to “go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18-20). God may have us “go” to our own family, the neighbor next door, or a friend. These are all excellent if it’s what God has for us, as He did for the healed-man in the region of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:18-20). But the connotation of Matthew 28:18 is to “go” to people who have a lesser concentration of the gospel so that disciples are made among “all nations.” We should always remember: How can they believe unless they hear? How can they hear unless we “go” to them (Romans 10:14-15)?
What it looks like to “go” is presented throughout Scripture. The Book of Acts records the persecution and scattering of the church even during its infancy. One purpose of this scattering was to move believers from all being together in Jerusalem to re-locating “throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). They ended up where there were not as many followers of Christ. Also, Paul went from an area of greater concentration of believers to locations where the concentration of Jesus’ disciples was fewer, so as to share the truth about Christ.
If we have been around the evangelical church for long, we know that “to ‘go’ is good.” In our younger years, God had many of us not “go” because of family responsibilities and the need to work for finances. Now children are out of the home, and full-time employment doesn’t tie us down as it once did. Could this be the time for those of us who have found ourselves retired for one reason or another to consider anew the imperative to “go”?
Take for example, the country of France. According to figures in Operation World, the percentage of evangelicals in the United States is almost 30 times greater than that in France. A French friend of ours, a medical doctor, had never owned a Bible until she recently came to the United States. Also, she had never heard the truths of the gospel until Beth told her about Jesus while she was here. What would God think of the retired believer going on a short-term or medium-term missions trip to serve alongside established missionaries already in France?
There are other possible uses of our retirement years. Maybe in the future we will have the opportunity to consider other values that should be pondered for this unusual time of life. May God continue to give us His wisdom (James 3:13, 17-18) as we help others and ourselves live lives pleasing to Him (2 Cor 5:9), no matter what stage of life we find ourselves!