When Americans think of retirement, they look forward to their "golden years." But the suggestion that there is such a time in life presumes a lot. As Christ-followers, should we expect to live this way in our latter years?
The term "golden years" was coined in 1959 as an advertising pitch for Sun City, one of the early adult communities being built in Sun City, Arizona. Sun City creator Del Webb believed people would flock to his new housing development if he created and defined the American Dream: "not working" and living a stress-free life marked by fun, leisure and happiness. He was right.
On the day Sun City opened, 100,000 people showed up. He had tapped a golden vein that continues to flourish. Sun City now has locations in multiple U.S. states. Now when most Americans visualize retirement, they think of leisure. When we hear the term, it's clear we are talking about retirement, a time promoted as one of leisure.
Avoid 30 Years of Purposeless R&R
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Reframing our Western cultural view of retirement is a big task. The picture of retirement as one homogeneous time frame marked by a downhill slide both physically and mentally with the goal to jam as much leisure, fun and relaxation as possible into the years that are left has captured our thinking and changed our view of the world after age 65.
But, in reality, retirement is not all roses. In fact, it's not a pretty picture or the image of a postcard from Sun City or other adult retirement communities. Further, the way many seniors are retiring today does not reflect God's plan for life in our later years. Instead, it portrays the opposite. The bottom line is too many people enter retirement with lives devoid of meaning, accomplishing little or nothing for the kingdom. But believers are to be faithful for a lifetime, not just a season.
Let's look more closely at retirement for Christ-followers who are willing to listen to the Holy Spirit and identify, face and accept both the reality and the opportunities available to them. Sadly, too many Christians give lip service to God's calling, which reveals that their ears are not listening and their eyes are not seeing.
Here are some key facts to help us take a new perspective on our retirement years. Let's call it a "reframation."
Longevity. What Americans call retirement may very well last 30 years. After we turn 65, approximately one-third of our lives lies in front of many of us. That's the same length of time as that between ages 20 and 50. Think back over any 30-year period in your life and be reminded of all the changes that took place. It's reasonable, then, to assume that the same number of changes will take place during an individual's 30 years of retirement. It is not one homogeneous period, but one filled with challenge, often pain and an opportunity to impact the kingdom. The question is, "Will we?"
God's plan. We acknowledge that God has a plan for our lives. The Bible says that His plan started in the eternity that existed even before time began. Our calling doesn't end when we stop working. We continue to draw on the wisdom we glean throughout life as we enter a new phase of life in retirement.
Reframing, changing the way we think about our next 30 years, is the heart of the reframation message. To reframe, people facing retirement need to repackage their views of life and the culture in which they live.
What does retirement look like? It is surprising but true that when Christians are asked what they expect their retirement to look like, approximately 85 percent respond with some version of "nothing." It is often framed as a longing for leisure activity or checking off another item on the bucket list. While many are clear about their desire to be free during retirement, many are not clear what "freedom to" looks like. As parents, we prepared for the arrival of our children. The nine months prior to the arrival of a new life are talked about, read about and prioritized in terms of physical preparation whether the color of the room is pink or blue.
Our high school years are marked by the reality that college or vocational training lies ahead. The question is always there: What are you going to do after graduation? The presumption is that if you are not prepared, you will not be able to care for yourself or the family you'll have later.
As Christians, we are all on a spiritual journey, with preparation for eternity marked by a commitment to a personal relationship with Jesus and an appreciation for His grace washing away the stupidity and carelessness of our lives, which God calls sin.
Anticipating, understanding and preparing for each of these three life stages of retirement is the right thing to do. We prepared for children. We prepared for college. But, when it comes to preparing for retirement, we resort to a resounding "nothing." I asked the last eight ministry leaders in my network who were approaching retirement what they were going to do next. They all had blank looks.
Because of longevity, we have many years to take the wrong path. We see the increasing rate of gray bankruptcy, divorce and even suicide. We reflect and again choose the wide path during these 30 years. Consequently, we seem to embrace the ills facing our society instead of the beautiful, helpful and God-honoring path. We follow our culture and embrace the negative life issues so prevalent during our first 60-plus years. But as Christians, we need to stay our course and change our thinking about God's call, our preparation and our commitment to building His kingdom. When the world says stop, it's time for our greatest impact.
So how many of us are either approaching our golden years or already living them? Here is a statistic that tells the story: 10,000 people turn 65 every day of the year. That's more than 3.5 million a year. When you connect that number with the reality of longevity, we estimate that there are more than 30 million Christians over the age of 55 with too many of them doing nothing about building the kingdom.
Here is a key verse highlighting the need to reframe retirement for kingdom service: "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that the Father may give you whatever you ask Him in My name" (John 15:16).
Jesus' transparent message establishes the relationship between God and ourselves, reaches into our inner being and directs our life with the benefit in mind: bearing fruit. It also reminds us that we are not alone as we step out in each of our fruit-bearing missions.
To help us think differently, to respond to the challenge of the retirement reformation message, consider these key issues.
My personal observations show that health, money and a meaningful life are the keys to happiness after 60. I'd add that growing spiritually and emotionally are two critical components. When we grow spiritually and emotionally, we are more prepared to operate within God's kingdom and demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit to the world.
Jesus gave us two significant commandments. Focusing on His two admonitions allows us to reflect Him to the world. He commanded us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.
As you grow closer to God, you will naturally adopt a kingdom lifestyle that shows in your passions, your joys and your sorrows. The beauty of our retirement years, when we are prepared financially, is that we have the freedom to respond to God's call and experience what it means to live with and for Him.
Though finances and health are important, living with meaning is critical. Living in His purpose provides the passion for life. Passion provides the energy and perseverance needed to boldly reflect Jesus to the world.
Adopt a Kingdom Action Plan
To understand the real context for reframation, consider the three stages of retirement:
Active application (ages 65-67). In this phase, we are prepared, energetic and ready to start new things. We strongly support kingdom-focused programs, identify needs and help address them. Forward-looking and active, we operate with the wisdom provided by a lifetime of experience and God's direction through the Holy Spirit.
Mentoring (ages 68-77). Now at the peak of your insight, understanding and closeness to God, you have the ability to speak into the most difficult of interpersonal relationships and represent Jesus, speaking truth into the complexities of life. You are able and willing to mentor those younger and responding with love and insight, to those older generations struggling with life's issues.
Sharing (ages 78-87). With a lifetime in the rearview mirror, you are in a good position to share God's wisdom with those coming after you. You understand God's principles and can share how they apply to our current culture and kingdom challenges.
The Retirement Reformation Manifesto, available online at retirementreformation.org, addresses the 10 key issues and challenges of our time. It outlines the 10 principles and cornerstones upon which to build your reframation for kingdom duty. The principles help us commit to a new way of thinking and acting in retirement.
So how should we reframe our golden years for kingdom service? Here is an action plan to begin your process:
Understand the reality of retirement in our times, its duration and challenges.
Embrace the fact that God has a plan for life, for each stage and every time frame. We are to be faithful for a lifetime, not just a season.
Stay in the Scriptures and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit directing your paths.
Know yourself, how God has prepared you and what stirs your passion.
Accept that we will always work. But what we are working on—and for what—make the difference. We sweat through 18 holes and gardening too, so work is a reality.
Aggressively pursue other available options. Remember, God doesn't steer a parked car.
Feel good about taking some time to rest, refresh and explore the world and your family.
There are so many needs and ways to build the kingdom. If you follow the path outlined above, you will find the way to meaning and purpose and your way of serving the kingdom.
Reframe, refresh and refire. The last 30 years of life will bear the fruit Jesus calls us to produce and experience: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. What a way to live! This retirement lifestyle will be the result of your reframation.
Bruce Bruinsma is founder of The Retirement Reformation and author of a new book of the same title. Visit retirementreformation.org to learn more about retirement "reframation."
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