John Piper wrote a great little book, Don’t Waste Your Life, (may be freely downloaded here) in which he recounts a retired couple’s decision to move onto yacht, and spend the rest of their lives beachcombing. Piper’s point was, after wasting their lives, what do they have to bring glory to God, seashells?
I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who “took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.” At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life—your one and only precious, God-given life—and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: “Look, Lord. See my shells.” That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life.
I believe one of the Christian church’s greatest capitulations to worldly thinking is the concept of retirement. Since social pension programmes were established for all workers, much of life has become a scramble to save enough money to survive retirement. When the age was set for workers to retire (usually males), sixty-five was just a few years short of the time they were expected to die. With better health care and worker safety, workers can reasonably expect to live another 20 years or more after they quit working. That is, twenty years without a paycheque. The quality of life depends upon the quality of savings during the working years. That those who have very demanding jobs physically and mentally (such as manual labourers and coffee shop servers) have the poorest retirement prospects, while many who had relatively easy work (this description left blank!) have the richest pensions, is a matter of injustice.
This, of course, is a great burden to the taxpayer, but that’s not my issue here. Much less is it my wish to see a neo-Marxist plan to solve these problems.
My concern is for those who have bought into the myth that the dominion mandate (i.e., to care for Creation, to do work; Genesis 1:28-31; 2:15) is suspended at an arbitrary age. If retirement means a quitting of labour, it is so as an act of disobedience from the God who made us to work. Christians should know better.
Many Christians are forced into leaving their places of employment by a certain age. But employment is not identical to godly work, and being out of the “workforce” does not place one on a twenty year vacation.
Work brings glory to God, and honours Him. I know of two excellent retirees (younger than me), whose industry offered them early retirement. It was a wise decision for them to take it, and indicates stewardship. Among the many other things they are doing now while “unemployed,” both serve their Lord by serving their community. More directly in service to Christ, one is undertaking hospital construction in Nigeria, the other is building and managing a church camp in Ontario. Here are two men, along with their wives, who live as examples of a retirement not wasted.