This article is part of the Questions and Answers series.
Q: What makes a good retirement?
A: A good retirement has many features, but there is one you cannot afford to overlook. Many working people decry the lack of it and long for it. Younger people are looking for a career that will provide it. What is it? Life balance. I think of balance as the ability to live according to your own priorities, not having them dictated by someone else. Typically, those working full time feel off balance because they spend too much time and energy for the job and not enough for the rest of life. This may include time with family, exercise, having fun, or just relaxing. Many followers of Jesus bemoan not having time to spend with him in quiet devotion and active service. Retirement is the ideal time to recapture balance. If you are contemplating retirement or if you are retired and making some course adjustments, now is the time to rebalance your life. This will provide the foundation for a good retirement.
Q: What are your priorities?
A: Achieving balance first requires a careful assessment of your priorities. For Christians, that is easy for their first priority should be to glorify God. With that as a given, Jesus gives two basic ways by which you can do that: love God and love neighbor. Loving God involves spending dedicated time with him in reading and studying Scripture, praying, and practicing some of the other spiritual disciplines. Loving neighbor involves spending time with others, listening to their needs, and doing what you can to help. You see these dramatically illustrated when Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha. Martha was scurrying about preparing for their meal—she was loving neighbor. Mary was commended for sitting at the feet of Jesus, enjoying his presence and teaching—she was loving God. A good retirement requires you to live with a proper balance between loving God and loving neighbor.
With your ultimate and penultimate goals understood, you must think of lesser but still essential priorities. These will be personal for no two people will have the same. For myself there are three big ones:
- Having a financial plan to allow me to care for my needs through my expected life span. Remember the parable of the ten young women where Jesus criticized the five who were not sufficiently prepared to provide for themselves till the bridegroom arrived. One of our priorities must be to prudently manage the monies God has given us to provide for our expected needs.
- If you are blessed with a family, they must be a priority. Time with children and grandchildren is a gift perhaps you alone can give. You can teach them about God and what it means to live by faith. This will bring glory to God and be a part of the legacy you leave when God calls you home.
- Maintain your health. It is sad to see a retirement, which could otherwise bring much glory to God, compromised by potentially avoidable ill health. Close to retirement have a health assessment. Start with a physical through your physician’s office. Then get to a gym and consult with a trainer to see in what ways you need to get in shape, how to do it, and how to maintain it.
Knowing your priorities is the next step to a good retirement.
Q: When should you retire?
A: The next step toward a successful retirement is to retire at the right time. Having a fixed retirement age, such as sixty-five, does not make a lot of sense, though at times it is forced on you by your employer. Other considerations may compel you to retire sooner or later. These may include finances or personal or family health needs. If the timing of retirement is up to you, the answer of when to retire should flow out of your ultimate priority. The key question is, Can my life bring more glory to God by continuing to work, or by what I could do after retirement? Next ask how you can best fulfill your other priorities.
There are several reasons to retire at a younger age. Chief of these is to have more years to spend invested in activities that are more in line with your priorities. Another reason to retire earlier is feeling tired or burned out, having lost your enthusiasm for work. If that is the case, the quality of your performance has deteriorated and it is time to make a change.
A good retirement requires you to live with a proper balance between loving God and loving neighbor.
But there are good reasons to continue to work longer. Recall how God gave our first parents work to do before they sinned. Work is what we were designed for. Further, many have found retirement disappointing. A surprising number of those who retired before age 65 returned to some type of work either out of boredom or a desire to be involved in something more meaningful. A third reason is that you may be at the top of your game in terms of ability and salary. This provides the chance to influence the lives of colleagues and younger folk and be more generous. God has provided those opportunities and you need to steward them well. Finally, work provides clearly defined activities each day, it keeps you from wasting time, and prevents boredom. Life without work can be a difficult adjustment, so it may be best to continue on the job.
If you do retire, the next question is:
Q: How do you prioritize retirement goals and keep them in balance?
A: Now that you have retired, it is time to seize your new freedom and balance your priorities. During working years you have typically spent more time serving others than enjoying time with Jesus. This, more than anything, may have thrown you off balance and it is a hard habit to break. You may be wise to take an extended period, perhaps several months or even a year, for spiritual renewal. You have been working hard all your life, so now is the time to slow down, refocus, and make changes. God himself rested after creating the world and commanded his people to take a sabbath. Before you launch into other activities, you may need time to rest. You will need to revamp and significantly expand your daily time in prayer and in hearing God speak through reading and studying your Bible and practicing other spiritual disciplines. It may help to develop a group of new spiritually invigorating friends and schedule regular times for fellowship and support. This period of rest will allow you to reconsider your other priorities—like finances, family, and fitness—as you guarantee time for them. It will also give you time to explore ways in which you can serve productively once you decide it is time to get going on the next phase of your life.
It may be tempting, but do not allow this interlude of reflection and redirection to turn into a permanent vacation. Soon you must get back to regular productive service. Life in retirement is too short—it will be over before you know it—and you will stand before your Savior to give account for how you used the years he gave you. But, now that you get back into something more productive, you are free to live according to your own priorities and assure they are in the right balance. If you fail to do so, it will be your own fault. That leads to the final question.
Q: What should you do each day in retirement?
A: Let’s be honest, you will not be able to fulfill all of your priorities and maintain a full-time job. But, thankfully, you will not need to maximize your income (if you need any at all). That should be very freeing. You are free to choose something you are good at, enjoy, and that will benefit God’s kingdom. One suggestion is to consider your present work. You are likely good at it and enjoy it. Ask yourself what you like most about your work and what you like least. Now explore how to do the things you like, eliminate what you find onerous, and investigate how you can apply those skills to benefit God’s kingdom. That may lead you to how to serve in your retirement.
On the other hand, God may lead you to do something totally unrelated to your prior work. He may open the door for you to do something with your spouse or develop an interest that you have had for years but were unable to pursue. It may be a volunteer position or paid employment. Volunteering may give you more freedom, but a salary forces you to a higher level of commitment. You may need that discipline. Either way, it helps to do something consistently and not just on the spur of the moment.
Remember that retirement presents a new freedom to live your life according to your God-given priorities. Approach it intentionally to assure you glorify God by balancing your love for God and your love for neighbor. Happy retirement!
John Dunlop, MD is the author of Wellness for the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life.
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