“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.”This story came from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.

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.”Gordon T. Smith, Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011), 85. In contrast to a vision of aging as either the ‘retirement dream’ or a ‘work-’til-you-drop’ alternative, Scripture is realistic about aging and the need to lay down past responsibilities, while still embracing loving service to our neighbor. 

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.
Gordon Smith

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.See Chapter 2, Sabbath, in: Jeff Haanen An Uncommon Guide to Retirement (Chicago: Moody Press, 2018). The Bible suggests that we all need not just days of rest, but seasons of rest (Leviticus 251 The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.). Early retirement is the perfect time for just such a period of healing and reflection. 

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 20:28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many., Ephesians 2:10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do., Colossians 3:23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,). The opportunity here is for retirees — and their financial advisors — to embrace a vision of work (paid or unpaid) in later life as public contribution rather than as punishment for not having saved enough in one’s 401(k). 

The Bible portrays elders as those possessing wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age (Lev. 19:32“‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.). Far from being an insult, the Hebrew term for elder (zaqen) is used as an indication of one’s nobility. The elder taught at the city gate, the ancient place for public dialogue (Job 32:6-10
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.

The Bible portrays elders as those possessing wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age (Lev. 19:32).

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). 

Redeeming the Motive for Investing

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.
). It would also temper the need for a huge buildup of assets by age 65, knowing that income can continue later in life. Also, health issues (and, hence, expenses) would lessen due to continued connection to community and purpose through work. It would also calm the endless drive and unhealthy work rhythms earlier in life by giving us a vision of work that continues over a lifetime, and hence, a deeper investment during our careers in our families and our emotional health. The myth of “financial freedom” would be replaced with a deeper freedom given by God alone and a contentment in our current life and current circumstances, thereby draining the retirement myth of its false promises (Gal. 5:1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.; Ps 23:1The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.).

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).

Category: Retirement
References
  1. This story came from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.
  2. Gordon T. Smith, Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-Given Potential (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011), 85.
  3. See Chapter 2, Sabbath, in: Jeff Haanen An Uncommon Guide to Retirement (Chicago: Moody Press, 2018).
  4. 1 The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
  5. just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
  6. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
  7. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
  8. “‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.

  9. 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.


  10. “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.
  11. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
  12. The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
Disclosure
  • This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), a Registered 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.

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