3 min read

On Retirement

We all have visions of retirement, these stemming from our second-hand personal experiences of prior generations, the cultural influences we have been variously subjected to, with a dose of our own wishes and hopes.

I will share what I was taught and shown on the matter by many personal mentors, now long past. I grew up in close touch with communities largely unchanged since medieval days, Mennonites, Amish, Reformed Presbyterians, etc... quite a diverse selection of living history.  Their perspectives on life, while not all constructive (religious prejudice was often a hallmark of older times, but to be fair, this was not always as bad as contemporarily portrayed), can be instructive.

Retirement meant something different to the average person a few centuries ago.  It meant not the end of labor, but primarily the end of receiving material profits from one's efforts.  Even the elderly farmer who labored in the fields, the barns and cleared the back acreage until he no longer awoke in the morning reached a point where he would no longer personally benefit from his daily toils.

Retirement was the time to hand over all the fruit of many years of work to the next generation, while remaining on hand to assist as needed. Not a time to move to a beachside resort and live on cocktails and leisure.  Most of the elderly men and women I was around devoted their lives to others, whether in pro-bono community work, leadership in the religious field, informal counseling, etc.

Retirement meant paying back all the help and care the world freely bestowed upon one before being called elsewhere.  Today, many young people are misled into believing that retirement means kicking back into a luxuriant passive income situation, wherein one has ample time to pursue those frivolities untouched in the earlier, more financially demanding years of life. This is not what the good Lord has in mind. Retirement in many respects means 'graduating' to working without financial incentive... few are inclined to race prematurely into this state.

We are on the clock in life until the boss takes us off the job. We answer for our entire lives, not merely for an initial series of strong efforts. Retirement was seen as a liberty to work for higher ideals, no longer being caught up in the demands of the middle period of life.

If we keep this in mind during our working years, we might not be in such a hurry to retire. We could appreciate the fact that later in life, we may not be given as much to work with physically.  But when younger generations look around and see older folks dedicated to selfish pursuits, they will naturally attempt to shrug responsibilities as quickly as possible.

Retirement comes with greater responsibility, of those to whom much is given, much will be required. Free time is a gift, but like liberty, it has a price. We must be sure to keep ourselves on track, for no longer will life prod and pull us into fulfilling our just purposes.

Older generations dropped the ball on us, by this I refer primarily to the 1800s, when many of our attitudes on work and life were given seed and watered. We cannot get into generational feuds here and now, because the blame is long past.  But for us generations still here, we can all begin to apply solutions to dig out of the mess we have all been handed.

If we are young, we can prepare ourselves for a useful, community-strengthening retirement. We may have to emotionally come to terms with the fact that we will never get to play all day. Work becomes play, if we practice it long enough. As long as we are here, we will be growing and learning. The sooner we accept this, the earlier we embrace our responsibilites as permanent challenges, the smoother life will be for us.

If we are already in the golden period of retirement, we can adjust our approach to it. Obviously, we must pull back from labor, the body requires rest. But we can (and must, if we wish to be around for long) find ways to leave a positive impact on the world. We can show that we have value to share, that we have wisdom and experience to be passed on. We can show that one never graduates from responsibility, merely grows into it.