Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Take on Retirement

Recently I read an article in which experts speculated on how much a person will need to retire and still live comfortably. What struck me was they weren’t talking about people in their 60’s or 70’s. They were projecting the requirements for a person to retire at age 35!

Holey moley! Imagine going to college, earning only a bachelor’s degree, and then actually working at most about 14 years (excluding any part-time work during high school and college). Who in good conscience could work just that short duration and being content to sit back, engage in distractions for the next 35-50 years, and cease making a meaningful contribution to the world around them? Perhaps that seems like heaven to you, but I can’t fathom such a non-productive existence.

It would be nice to be financially secure, not having to fret the next paycheck, but there must be more to life than pursuing a point of continual self-gratification. Not that work should be the primary focus of our lives, but vocation is one way we contribute meaningfully to society.

On the other hand, I also read Germany is contemplating upping the national retirement age to 70 – and its citizens are grousing. The German government’s rationale is the low birth rate (meaning those retiring would leave an unfilled void in the labor pool); longer life expectancies, and the country’s already overburdened welfare system.

Now 62 and an older Baby Boomer, I know many of my generational counterparts eagerly anticipate kicking back from the daily work grind. I understand aging takes a toll on energy, strength and stamina. But for people to retire completely while able-bodied and able-minded seems terribly wasteful.

Interestingly, the Bible addresses retirement only once. Numbers 8:25-26 says, "at the age of fifty, they (Levites) must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers…but they themselves must not do the work.” So Levites (Israelite priests) were to perform formal rituals between 25 and 50, then defer to younger men – but even then they were encouraged to assist or even mentor their successors.

In Genesis 1, we read God established work and gave mankind stewardship over His creation. He gives everyone different abilities, skills and gifts, not only for livelihood but also for serving others. We often hear about conserving natural resources – and I agree that’s important. But what can be a greater “natural resource” than the wisdom and experience of older workers – accountants or plumbers, medical practitioners or sales people, carpenters or teachers?

As we get older, we might need to transition into less-demanding jobs requiring fewer hours, but suddenly ceasing to offer our talents and capabilities for the benefit of others, in my view, is both selfish and irresponsible.

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