Our Executive Editor Tim Weinhold talks with Jeff Haanen on the biblical challenge to the modern concept of retirement, and how redeeming a biblical vision of our latter years frees us to see investing as God intends.
“What am I going to do with my retirement?”
The anxious question came from Anne Bell, a recently retired teacher at the University of Northern Colorado. Bright and soft-spoken, wearing dark-rimmed glasses and carrying a teacher’s bag, Anne came to our offices at the Denver Institute for Faith & Work one day with questions she wasn’t prepared to answer. “I’m really searching for what I’m called to,” she said with a quivering voice. “I need to know what’s next.”
The first step in re-envisioning the connection between retirement and investing is to begin by answering Anne’s honest questions. That involves rethinking the idea of retirement itself.
Rather than seeing retirement as a never-ending vacation, the Bible paints a picture of our later years as a laying down of past work-identities and entering a new season of rest, renewal, and reengagement as elders filled with wisdom and blessing for the coming generation(s).
Though the Bible doesn’t speak directly to our modern social construct of retirement, it does hint at the maturing of vocation over a lifetime. In the book of Numbers, the LORD said to Moses, “Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer,” (Numbers 8:24). Since hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle was physically demanding, God commanded older men to lay down the heavy work and give it to younger priests.
Gordon Smith, author and president of Ambrose University, writes, “I am convinced that part of the essence of vocational identity during this period of our lives [the senior years] is that we let go of power and control: people listen to us because we are wise and because we bless, not because of our office or any formal structure of power.”
Doing the hard work of disassociating our identity from work in early retirement requires an intentional space to rest, reflect, and seek renewal.
I believe the first step in developing a better, more-biblical, vision for retirement is to invite men and women not into the complete cessation of work, but into a purposeful sabbatical. This is an intentional three, six, or twelve months of rest and interior renewal to heal from past wounds and re-orient the heart toward trust, worship, and justice.
Sabbatical can also be a time to openly challenge secular notions of retirement by thinking about the different seasons of work over a lifetime. Work in the Bible is intrinsically about service, an activity from which we never retire (Matthew 20:28
The Bible portrays elders as those possessing wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age (Lev. 19:32
6 So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said:
“I am young in years,
and you are old;
that is why I was fearful,
not daring to tell you what I know.
7 I thought, ‘Age should speak;
advanced years should teach wisdom.’
8 But it is the spirit in a person,
the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.
9 It is not only the old who are wise,
not only the aged who understand what is right.
10 “Therefore I say: Listen to me;
I too will tell you what I know.
Today, we’d be wise to recover older traditions of honoring our elders, including the work they do later in life.
Rather than endless conversations about maximizing financial benefits for retirement, financial advisors could plant visions of elders as community leaders, giving generously their insight, money, time, talent, and prayers on behalf of the coming generation(s).
The secular vision of retirement is weighed down with images of sail boats, gag retirement gifts, vacations to the tropics. But the Bible has a very different vision of aging. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon,” writes the Psalmist. “They are planted in the house of the LORD; the flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,” (92:12-14, ESV).
Take a sabbatical rest. Ask questions regarding calling later in life. Seek healing for our vision of work. Reemerge ready to offer your experience, talents, and wisdom to a coming generation.
These simple activities could radically shift the motive we have for investing by shifting our narrative about retirement.
The greed and fear driving so much investing today would give way to a simple trust in the provision of God over a lifetime (Matthew 6:25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
A healed vision of retirement embraces a vision of rest, renewal, and reengagement as elders.
What, then, does this mean for investing? I cover that in Part 3: Reform Retirement, Redeem Investing (linked below).
This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.