Jeff Haanen

Category

Work

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CultureWork

The Coronavirus Sabbath: 9 Things to Do When Everything Is Canceled

Everything is shutting down. Not just major league sports, but swim practices, rec centers, local libraries, and office buildings. And public schools. In my home state of Colorado, even public schools are shutting down for at least two weeks.

This causes lots of problems. For instance, how are workers like barbers, mechanics, and home health care workers – those who can’t work from home – supposed to not only stay safe, but also care for kids who are home from school? Also, how long should employers hang on to employees in the midst of drastic short term revenue cuts? These are big questions that need answers.

However, for a brief window, the Coronavirus also presents an opportunity. As I write this, my office building has shut down, all of my kid’s soccer and swimming practices are canceled, and my calendar is opening pretty fast for the next two weeks. The cancelations have caused both anxiety and sadness in our home (we really enjoy seeing people in our community!) but I wonder: could we also see this unique time as an opportunity to deeply rest and restore our souls?

On the dusty sands of the Sinai desert, Moses descended from the mountain with a message from God. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:8-9).

God gives the command to take a day of rest for three reasons. The first is trust. Sabbath is a chance to reorient our hearts toward trusting that God is the ultimate provider. It is an invitation to lay down ultimate trust in our money or our work as the source of security, and to release the chains of anxiety and restore us to our proper place as created beings, dependent on God the Father for every good gift (James 1:17).

The second is identity. Why not work every day of the week? Only slaves do that, suggests the Bible (Deuteronomy 5:15). God is the one who has redeemed his people from slavery, and Sabbath was to be a continual reminder of their liberty and identity as God’s people. Forced slow-downs like this current pandemic make me ask myself: have I submitted myself to a yoke of self-imposed slavery?

The third is justice. The Sabbath law includes a command to allow those with the least cultural power (children, servants, foreigners) to rest so that they “may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12). In the midst of Coronavirus, this word is particularly poignant, as many tech workers will “work from home,” yet many with the least power will have far less ability to choose their hours and work location. Issues of justice and power will quickly rise to the surface as the global economy begins to hemorrhage.

If you are one of those who finds yourself with more time on your hands in the next two weeks, what would it look like to take this time and use it intentionally as a Sabbath rest?

Here are nine Sabbath practices to consider as the world begins to shut down for the coming weeks:

1. Prepare.

The Jewish “Day of Preparation” was a weekly rhythm of preparing to rest well – and it required extra work. Jews would store food and goods so they wouldn’t need to purchase them on the Sabbath day. They informed Gentiles (non-Jews) of their intention to take Sabbath rest.

Consider taking just an hour or two and consider how you might restructure time in the coming weeks. Many people waste Sabbath with entertainment or “vacation,” trying to vacate their daily lives. Instead, pause, find a friend or family member, and sit down together to consider how you might use this time to quiet your heart and life. Be intentional with this time.

2. Feast.

The idea of Sabbath as dour law-keeping is from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, not from God. In Jewish tradition, Sabbath was a time for richly eating and drinking. It was one of the “festivals of the Lord” which prohibited fasting and outward expressions of mourning (Leviticus 23). Sabbath was to be a “delight and joy,” recounting God’s grace toward his people (Isaiah 58:13).

In these next few weeks, you may consider having old friends over, or even neighbors who may feel particularly isolated. Yes, keep your physical distance, wash your hands, and be safe. However, nearly all state and local governments think that small gatherings with basic precautions are okay.

Consider having a lavish feast with co-workers, family members, or low-income neighbors as a way to express gratitude to God.

3. Worship.

In Lauren Winner’s short, accessible book Mudhouse Sabbath, she notes the difference between contemporary visions of a day or rest and the biblical vision of Sabbath. “Whom is the contemporary Sabbath designed to honor?” she asks, tongue in cheek. “Whom does it benefit? Why, the bubble-bath taker herself, of course!” In contrast, Winner says, in the Bible the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. The difference between “indulge, you deserve it” (the popular vision for vacation) and “drink in the joy of God” could not be starker.

As you plan your Coronavirus Sabbath, leave time for communal worship (especially in smaller groups under 100), for long and short periods of silence, for prayer walks, and for studying Scripture. Worship is the center of Sabbath.

And worshipping Christians in this cultural moment have a unique opportunity to show the world that not fear or disease is at the center of our world, but the Triune God.

4. Re-create.

Sports, hobbies, music – these all can play an important role in a Sabbath period. Jewish culture was built around its festivals and celebrations. Recreation as “re-creation,” rather than leisure or vacation, can be an ingredient in renewal. 

The Benedictine monks practiced ora et labora (work and pray.) They endeavored to be aware of God’s presence while farming, working, or even doing dishes. Can you do house chores or math lessons with kids during this time, yet quietly listen to God’s voice? Or internally are you “cranking work out,” nervous about all you’ll need to do when life returns to normal? The difference between the two heart attitudes is the difference between work and rest, Sabbath keeping and Sabbath breaking.

Yes, rec centers, stadiums, and theaters are closing. But the world outside your door is open for slow walks, long breaths, and deep smiles.

5. Remember.

Remembering was a core Sabbath practice for the Israelites. Even amidst the pain of unfaithful kings, the breach of covenant, and eventual exile, they found new life in remembering the Exodus and their nation’s birth out of slavery.

Take time to write down the good gifts God has given in your working life. Get out picture albums, call old friends or co-workers, or ask your parents about their first memories as children.

All is gift, said the Ignatius of Loyola. It often takes loss and forced silence to see this liberating truth.

6. Love your neighbor.

It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” Jesus said as the crippled man “stretched [his hand] out, and it was restored” (Matthew 12:9-12). The Pharisees saw this and conspired to kill him, calling him a law breaker. But Jesus saw that Sabbath was for the restoration of all his people, especially the poor, widow, orphan and foreigner.

During this next two weeks, consider visiting shut-ins (while, of course, taking proper precautions), visiting the grocery store for a neighbor without transportation, or caring for the kids of those who still have to work even though their kids are home from school.  My friend Dr. Bob Cutillo, a physician at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, once told me, “Don’t serve the poor. See through the eyes of the poor.”

As the Coronavirus transforms American life, take some time to think: how is the affecting the lower wage workers I know? Or the elderly? Or even my own neighbors?

Christians have the unique opportunity to demonstrate hope over fear in the time of Coronavirus.

7. Practice simplicity.

“Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free.” The classic Quaker song offers a counter-cultural freedom from the entertainment and accumulation-complex of our culture: to possess less and intentionally simplify your life is to experience deep freedom.

Could you take some time in the next two weeks to develop the habit of giving things away? What is causing anxiety in you? What could you use without owning? What could you just as easily share as possess?

8. Renew your mind.  

During Sabbath, consider taking time to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:1-2). Read not only religious books, but anything from neuroscience to wildlife biology to the history of water rights in the West. Our careers have a way of making us technicians – we know everything about one topic, but remain in the dark about most of the world. Reignite your curiosity and sense of wonder.

Shut off the technology, and find paper books that you can sit with, engage, and genuinely enjoy.

9. Make plans to continue Sabbath rhythms after your “Coronavirus Sabbath” ends.

We’re created to work (Gen. 2:15) and Sabbath days are meant to end. This awkward Coronavirus scare too, will end, and soon enough, we’ll be headed back to normalcy.

But what about the rhythms of the next few weeks could you take with you in the responsibilities of “normal life?” What practices do you want to take up? And which do you want to lay down?

And with whom do you want to practice more sustainable rhythms of work and rest in the future? Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time notes that Sabbath is a communal, not individualistic, activity. Could a spirit of Sabbath rest come to permeate even your working life, your family, your friendships and your community?

In our culture, most are engaging the Coronavirus with a spirit of fear and anxiety. Yet God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” (Is 41:10).

Sabbath rest allows us to pause and see the great, colorful symphony that is God’s world. Even a “forced sabbatical” like this, when offered to God, can help us develop the spiritual muscles to hear the voice of God, see the beauty of creation, and embrace our place in it. 

Everything may be shutting down right now. But, even as we take proper precautions, as Churchill once said, let’s “never waste a good crisis.”

Photo credit.

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This article was adapted from a chapter on Sabbath in my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life

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RetirementWork

“The days are long, but the years are short.” How should I use my time in retirement?

“Teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom.”

Psalm 90:12

“The first thing you have to know about retirement,” says Allan Spies, a 68-year-old retired US West executive, “is that you could live another 40 years.”

Spies recalled a conversation he had with his pastor when he was on the cusp of an early retirement in his 50s. The pastor reminded Spies of all the time he had ahead of him As Spies started to spend his newfound time, he was also jarred by how much his schedule changed. “The other thing you’ve got to know,” he says, “is that suddenly your clock changes.”

Many enter retirement busied and harried from the last few months of work. Then, like jumping off a moving train, the forward momentum comes to an abrupt halt. Weekdays melt into weekends. Long breakfasts can become early lunches. The time that was lacking in the pressure of raising a family and pursuing a career now floods into a quiet home.  

After an initial honeymoon period, many early retirees find themselves quickly looking for structure to their days and weeks. “I had to do something,” says Lynn Haanen, about her early retirement. “My days lacked a schedule and a sense of purpose.” Initially relieved to leave the “grind” of teaching third graders, Lynn (my mom) gloried in finally having time to herself. But eventually, she realized her weeks were amorphous and needing structure.

Her life in retirement had traded the stopwatch for the lava lamp, with hours and days slowly blobbing into each other without direction.

For millions of Americans, early retirement can feel like entering Dr. Seuss’s “The Waiting Place.” In his classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Seuss warns about “a most useless place” for “people just waiting”:

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Fear of being caught in a useless cycle of waiting leads many to backfill their days with activities, errands, and “busy work” to avoid the anxiety of purposelessness. Time becomes a burden, something to be used up, like too much corn overflowing a silo after harvest. “Oh, I stay busy,” becomes the anxious response to “How’s retirement?”

New research shows that human longevity is giving people a newfound abundance of years – a change few have planned for.

Time, Time, and More Time  

In 1900, the average male could expect to live to age 46, and the average female age, 48.[1] Today, “if you are now 20 you have a 50 per cent chance of living to more than 100; if you are 40 you have an even chance of reaching 95; if you are 60, then a 50 per cent chance of making 90 or more.” Over the last 200 years, life expectancy has increased at a rate of more than two years every decade.[2]

If you retire at age 65, this means that you will have an evens chance of living 25 years beyond retirement. (Studies show that half of Americans retire from ages 61-65, and a full two-thirds of Americans are out of the full-time workforce by age 66.[3]) If you exercise, eat healthy, minimize alcohol consumption and have generally healthy relationships, plan on at least three more decades of life.

In Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s fascinating book The 100 Year-Life, they see drastic changes coming to the world in the next 50 years as it ages – and lives longer than ever before.

  • Out of necessity, people will work into their 70s and 80s. Gratton and Scott ask their MBA students at the London Business School, “If you live you 100 years, save around 10 percent of your income and want to retire on 50 percent of your final salary, at what age will you be able to retire?” The answer: in your 80s. Human longevity is changing the equation of financial planners and government pensions.
  • There will be new jobs, skills, and a new need for life-long education. If you live to 100 and work into your 70s and 80s, the economy will likely have been completely transformed since your high school, undergraduate, or graduate education. The need to learn new job skills – and to take time to re-invest in your education – will rise in importance.
  • Family and home relationships will be transformed. Four generations living at the same time will become a norm, and as Baby Boomer budgets are stressed, intergenerational living will become commonplace.
  • People will be younger for longer. With advances in medical technology, many reporters and social observers have said “60 is the new 50.” Though we should carry a healthy skepticism of the “forever young” narrative of our culture (as we’ll explore in the next chapter), we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that people are now living longer, healthier lives than ever before.

One of the most fascinating changes already happening due to human longevity is that the three-stage life is starting to lose its meaning. For generations, it was assumed that you lived in three stages: first education, then employment, and finally retirement. (Many Christian books have adopted this paradigm and called retirement a “third third,” or a “third calling.” Other books have assumed that “aging” and “retirement” are the same topic, which is no longer true. “Old age” is something that – for most – will happen decades later.) But today, the seasons of life dedicated to work, family, education and rest will become more fluid. You might start a new career at 50, become an undergraduate at 60, and a great grandparent at 70.

Christianity can, and should, dump a bucket of cold water on much of a secular culture’s near-worship of the medical technology that has elongated our lives. “From dust we came,” we say on Ash Wednesday, “and to dust we shall return.”

But Christian thinkers, pastors, and leaders also need to lead the way in communicating that retirement is quite simply no longer a life stage “preparing for the end,” but instead a contemporary social construct that allows men and women to prepare for a new season of life.  

This is an excerpt from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.


[1] Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott, The 100 Year-Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity (London: Bloomsbury, 2016), 2.

[2] Emily Brandon, “The Ideal Retirement Age – and Why You Won’t Retire Then,” US News & World Report, 12 May 2014, Accessed on June 15, 2018: https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2014/05/12/the-ideal-retirement-age-and-why-you-wont-retire-then.

[3] Dan Kadlec, “The Ages When Most People Retire (Hint: Probably Too Young),” Time, 1 December 2016, Accessed on August 12, 2018: http://time.com/money/4584900/ages-people-retire-probably-too-young-early-retirement/.

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BusinessWork

“I am not alone as I work in the world.”

This is what one brave woman wrote in a post-event survey after Business for the Common Good, our annual business conference. I decided to post it here simply so I wouldn’t forget her insight and courage.

“This was the perfect mix of addressing all different levels of how to follow Jesus by honoring him in our work. I loved that there was an emphasis on building a foundation of valuing our own mental health and bringing our shame to Christ. If we don’t allow God to reconcile ourselves – inside of us – it will be hard to bring kindness, patience, and lasting change to our neighbors, coworkers, and the workplace structures we seek to improve.

“As a woman, I have increasingly found myself facing fears of being discounted and undervalued in a society that historically does so to women in the workplace. At this conference, however, I found myself being moved to empathy toward men instead of defensiveness as the sessions pointed towards faith in Jesus as the ultimate redemptive force inside of humanity.

“Seeing so many Christian men in business sitting under this teaching at the conference gave me a sense that my fight is not against them, but rather injustice. And this fight I can only navigate when I am rooted in my value in Jesus, not the salary I successfully negotiate or the roles I obtain. He holds my concerns close to his heart, and he does for all of us, men and women, and I am not alone as I work in the world.”

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RetirementWork

6 Questions to Ask About Working After Retirement

“Planning is an unnatural process; it’s much more fun to do something,” wrote twentieth century businessman Sir John Harvey-Jones. “And the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.”

Unfortunately, far too many people are completely surprised – and underwhelmed – by retirement because they didn’t accept 91-year-old Ellen Snyder’s advice: “Be sure before you decide to retire you know what you might do in the future so you’re not just sitting there thinking, ‘What do I want to do?’”

Here are six questions to ask – and choices to make – as you make a plan to work after retirement:

1.What is God calling me to?

In Keith and Kristin Getty’s modern hymn In Christ Alone, they write, “What heights of love, what depths of peace / When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!” As you enter the elder phase of your life, and your youthful strivings for achievement, position, and power are quieted by the knowledge that Christ has already finished the ultimate work of redemption, where do you sense God’s leading?

As you plan work in retirement, you’ll need to make hard choices. You cannot do everything. Nor is God calling you to do nothing. Dying to the possibilities of what will never be also gives you the freedom to pursue what God is giving uniquely to you. Embracing your constraints is core to embracing your calling.

Considering your real life, where do you sense God leading you to serve?

2. What will be different from my career? What will be similar?

Gary VanderArk, the not-so-retired neurosurgeon I mentioned in the first chapter, continued to do his work as a doctor throughout his life. Because he always felt a sense of continuity between his calling and his work, he decided to continue his full-time job as a doctor well into his 70s.  In a similar way, Jim Hagen, a business consultant from Cleveland, Ohio, decided to continue his work into retirement, yet move to part-time while picking up several pro-bono clients in the nonprofit sector.

Others, however, decide that retirement is a time to pick up the pearl of vocation that they’ve sensed during their career, but have never fully explored. Keith Gordon, age 61, a retired engineer, decided to use his skills to become a high school math teacher through a program called Transition to Teaching, which helps longtime workers nearing retirement move into second careers teaching math or science.

Working in retirement can be the perfect opportunity to bring greater alignment to your calling and your employment.

3. How many hours per week will I work?

“I liked your speech, but you missed something,” a kind gentleman in his late 60s said to me after a talk I gave in Virginia. “I just don’t have the same energy level I used to. I still have several accounting clients, but now I take naps every afternoon. I can still work, but it looks different now.”

This little piece of advice is freeing. Working after retirement should take into consideration the realities of aging, even while embracing what you can do. But don’t let this frustrate you. Cicero, the famous Roman statesman and orator, once wrote in his essay On Old Age that nature will always win and trying to cling to youthful activities in old age will lead to frustration and resentment. Instead, Cicero says, embrace this season of life. Now is your time to be an elder, whether that be an elder statesman, an elder in your church, or simply an elder to a teenager living down the street.

Retirement can be an opportunity to bring greater sanity to rhythms of work and rest, even while continuing to contribute fruitfully to your community for decades to come. And so you’ll need to decide, how many hours do I want to work in retirement?

4. What kinds of work do I need to experiment with?

If you’re planning on making a career change, consider three things: (1) Ask a veteran in that field or company before making a final choice. Richard Baxter, the17th century Puritan pastor, wrote to those contemplating job choices, “Choose no calling (especially if it be of public consequence) without the advice of some judicious, faithful persons of that calling.”[1]

Also, consider your opportunities, abilities, and affinities before choosing a new job. What opportunities are right in front of you? What are your abilities? And what do you want to do?

5. What will I commit to?

“We’ve constructed this idea of the 90-year-old surfer-volunteer as the ideal retiree,” says Marty Martinson, professor of health education at San Francisco State University.[2] Martinson believes we told boomers the contradictory messages of “have fun in retirement” yet serve a social cause in your free-time. But in both of these scenarios, it’s the unhinged individual who decides what will best satisfy themselves. It’s still about what works best for me.

Biblical faith implies responsibility, and responsibility implies commitment. It means making a choice to regularly show up and serve the needs of others, even when it’s hard or inconvenient. Yet commitment also offers contour, meaning, and connectedness. Like in marriage – it’s the “forsaking of all others” that brings deep, lasting satisfaction.

To what, or to whom, will you commit to? What might it mean for Christian people to buck the national average of seven to eight hours of leisure time per day in retirement and commit to working on behalf of their neighbors over a lifetime?[3]

6. How will I balance and embrace my different callings in retirement?

I don’t believe work is the only calling we have. We’re called to be children, parents, and spouses; we’re called to be citizens of our communities; we’re called to be members of the church.

As you consider how to spend your time in retirement, and what role paid work will play in your next season of life, how is God calling you to love each of your various “neighbors” as yourself? Caring for an ailing parent full-time – and not working – may be exactly what God is calling you to do right now.  Your work is not the fullness of your vocation. As Mother Teresa once said, “Many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our [primary] vocation is the love of Jesus.”

Readiness to respond to God’s voice is the heartbeat of making wise choices about work over a lifetime.  

This article is adapted from An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.


[1] https://denverinstitute.org/how-to-choose-a-career-advice-from-a-puritan-pastor/

[2] https://www.aarp.org/work/retirement-planning/info-2014/boomer-retirement-little-savings-means-working.html

[3] https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/slideshows/12-ways-retirees-spend-their-newfound-free-time

VocationWorkWorld

“A Fully Activated Workplace” (Global Workplace Forum, Lausanne Movement)

This last summer I was deeply honored to serve on a panel in Manila on “A Fully Activated Workplace.” I shared the stage with a clinical psychologist in Nairobi working with refugees, an electrical engineer in Canada, a manager at Apple, and a man doing church planting with nomadic tribes in central Asia. I shared about my research on the American working class.

Incredible what God’s doing around the world…Bravo Lausanne Movement. And bravo to all of you for stepping into God’s call in your life wherever you may be walking on the planet earth today…

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RetirementWork

A New View of Retirement (Thrivent Magazine)

How two couples reflect a growing movement to see retirement not as an end but as a transition.

We’re planning to retire by age 50,”says Rebecca Jackson, 40, from Fort Collins, Colorado. “But it’s not that we wouldn’t work; we just might not do the same thing.”

Rebecca and her husband, Greg Feldpausch, 39, are both doctors. She’s a geriatric physician, and he works in adult medicine at Northern Colorado Hospitalists after spending the first season of his career in the Air Force. As they juggle work and raising their two boys, Clayton, 4, and Jackson, 7, they’re also looking to the future. The end goal for them is to be able to fully walk away from their jobs and be retired for life.

How will they do that? They’ve created a strategy to pay down their student loan debt and save for the future. Clint Jasperson, their brother-in-law (married to Rebecca’s sister) and a Thrivent Financial professional in Timnath, Colorado, has helped them.

“They’re very, very committed to paying off their debt,” says Jasperson. “So many people end up in what feels like indentured servitude by having ‘lifestyle creep,’ by buying a larger house or car than they need. But Becca and Greg have their priorities straight.”

Even though both now make good salaries, Rebecca and Greg essentially live on one salary, as they are aggressively paying off loans and cars, and are saving for their children’s college education.

Jasperson has been a crucial guide in Rebecca and Greg’s financial journey, helping them use their finances to live out their faith. “If we believe everything we have is a gift, then that puts us into a position of stewardship,” Jasperson says.

Their view of retirement reflects a growing movement to see retirement not as an end but as a transition. They’re looking forward to retirement giving them more flexibility when it comes to their family and pursuing other passions. “There’s a high burnout rate in medicine,” says Rebecca, explaining why they want to retire early. “And we’d just like to have options. Time with our family is really a priority.” They’ve also considered retiring in Oregon, and Greg has thought about spending more time working with his hands—possibly learning a new trade.

Jasperson helps Thrivent members save and plan for the future, especially for unexpected circumstances like a death in the family. But he doesn’t believe most people “want to just sit there and idly twiddle their thumbs all day. Retirement is really about transitioning to your next calling. You’ve got to find that next calling.”

Retirement is not always about a complete cessation from work, but often a new season of service that’s enabled by being wise with money.

Planning to Retire—But Not Completely

“I don’t know that we’ll ever actually retire,” says Mike Fornataro, executive director of Buckeye Lake Region Corporation in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. “But because of investing, we’re now in a position to do things we’d like to do rather than chase the dollar.”

Mike, 60, and his wife, Ann, 56, didn’t start investing until their late 40s, when they met Thrivent Financial Professional Jeff Ritter from Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Ann is a senior IT training consultant for Genesis Healthcare Systems.

“Our time frame was shorter,” Mike says, “but we’ve been fortunate. Jeff gauged our comfort level, and we now have stable growth.”1

Ritter helped the Fornataros fast-track their retirement savings. “I share the five principles to live by with my clients,” he says. “Spend less than you make, have a short- and long-term strategy, be wise with debt, protect yourselves against setbacks and give back.” In setting and achieving goals, it’s important to understand that you might need to make some trade-offs as you consider your needs and wants.

Ritter also coached the Fornataros to make a clear budget and ask questions about the values they tie to money. “Are you tracking—literally—the money you’ve spent in the last 90 days. Do you write it down?” he asks them. “And when I first meet a couple, I ask, ‘How were you raised with money? How did your parents define success?’” Clarity on inherited values about money can help explain why budgets either work well for people or are ignored. He also uses one of several money models when he counsels clients to make a 10-10-80 plan: Save 10%, give 10% and spend 80%.

“When I first met Mike and Ann,” Ritter remembers, “they didn’t have a retirement strategy.” So they developed a clear financial roadmap for retirement.

The Fornataros have adopted new habits of saving and investing, but like Rebecca and Greg, they don’t envision completely retiring. “Hopefully we’ll be able to work at lower-stress jobs because we have a cushion. It’s not the traditional, ‘I’m done. I’m out,’ type of retirement,” says Mike. “[We want] the freedom to choose what we do for a living that may not be as lucrative but is more fulfilling. That’s our view of retirement.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, an estimated 10,000 baby boomers retire per day in the U.S.2 Yet couples like Mike and Ann are questioning that idea of retirement as a complete cessation from work. Mike says, “I hope to continue working in a capacity similar to what I’m doing now. A job with real community benefit.”

“What I see going forward,” says Ritter, “is how we can help people get repositioned in retirement to still give back. Maybe it’s volunteering or doing a hybrid retirement, working part time, either for pay or not for pay. What I work through with clients is, ‘What does your picture of retirement look like? Paint it for me so you, your spouse and I are on the same page.’

“I ask people, ‘Have you and your spouse sat down and talked about what you both want to accomplish for retirement? What is your game plan? What are you going to be doing? Is it travel? Write a book? Are you going to work part-time? What are you going to do for yourself, and what are you going to do for others?’”

Finances are just one piece of a fruitful retirement. Ritter guides Thrivent members to think through the stewardship not just of their wealth, but the entirety of their lives as a gift from God.

Prioritizing What’s Important

“Time with family. That really is the priority,” says Rebecca about both her present and future plans. That philosophy was inspired by the early death of her father. “My dad worked really hard, retired early and then passed away two years later, at age 65.” In working with older patients, Rebecca is constantly reminded by the fragility of life and how unexpected events can drastically change our lives.

So she takes off Mondays to take her children to swim practice. Greg recently opted for fewer shifts at the hospital. They enjoy family vacations in Michigan, Colorado and Oregon. They’re living not just for the future, but they recognize each day as a gift.

They imagine that one day they’ll perhaps have a saner balance of work and rest. “I don’t know if we’d completely retire. We may one day work at a nursery or take up a trade. But we want to be able to spend time together. That’s our hope.”

This article first appeared in the Thrivent magazine, a trade publication for over 2 million Thrivent members. Here’s the PDF.

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RetirementVocationWork

Reimagining Retirement: Recovering a Vision of Elderhood for the Global Church (Lausanne Global Analysis)

This essay on retirement, targeted toward ministry leaders, was first published in the November 2019 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis. Here it is in its entirety.

Greg Haanen recently turned 65 and retired from a career selling print advertising. For over 14 years, he lived in Minneapolis, while his wife Gayle ran Interlachen Inn, a small restaurant in Alexandria, Minnesota. Having lived apart from her for over a decade, he was ready to say good riddance to the two-hour commute every weekend, to spending nights alone, and to a life of hurry and obligation. They sold their house in Minneapolis and renovated their cabin with a deluxe fireplace, big screen TV, and farmhouse kitchen. He was eagerly awaiting a new season of rest and relaxation.

Yet his honeymoon period was short-lived. Less than three months after retirement, his sister went in for another round of chemotherapy, having battled cancer for years. However, this time, she started to decline fast. In only weeks, he found himself coordinating hospice details, calling family, and moving her out of her apartment. As images of a carefree retirement on a beach slowly receded, he confessed to me, his son, ‘I feel like there’s something more for me; but I’m just not sure what.’[1]

An aging world

My father is part of a larger, global trend. The world—and the Christian church—is aging quickly:[2]

  • Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day in the US,[3] and, this year, for the first time in American history, there will be more Americans over age 60 than under 18.[4]
  • By 2050, the global population of adults over age 65 is expected to double to 1.6 billion.[5]
  • The median age of Christians is also on the rise. In the US it is 53 (higher if you are in a mainline denomination); in the UK, 61. Pew reports that Christians, unlike Muslims, are dying faster in Europe than they are being born.[6]

Yet people are also living longer, which makes the current experience of retirement such an awkward fit for people like my father:

  • For example, if you were born in 1947, you can expect to live to age 85.
  • If you were born in 1967, your life expectancy is 91.
  • For those born in 2007, life expectancy is now 103.[7]

In an age of human longevity, people are asking how they are going to spend what could be 20, 30 or even 40 years after official retirement.

Furthermore, governments are asking how they are going to foot the bill. A USA Today staff editorial claims, ‘The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in just ten years, half of all federal spending (except for debt service) will be benefits to senior citizens.’[8] As global pensions are stretched (especially in Europe), promises of never-ending government benefits for retirees are looking thinner by the day.[9] One TIME magazine article made the case that China’s aging population is a major threat to its future, largely due to its one-child policy and the imbalance of older to younger adults. Many believe an aging population is China’s biggest economic problem.[10]

‘Retirement’ relevance?

Globally, paradigms for aging are beginning to show cracks. The notion of sitting on the porch while living out one’s ‘golden years’ is becoming less attractive to healthy, older adults.[11] Yet that ambition is tempered by the fact that most retirees have deep seated (and empirically founded) fears about affording the retirement ‘dream’.[12] Why, then, in an age where people are healthier for much longer than at any time in modern history, does the idea of ‘retirement’ persist?

One reason is that retirement may be the most lucrative idea in the global economy. By one estimate, the US retirement industry alone is worth about USD 27 trillion.[13] While we have rarely connected the global economy and the notion of retirement, the primary reason most individuals invest in the stock market is that they are saving for retirement. Work, often laced with deep money-based fears, becomes a frenzy of activity all directed toward the goal of ‘hitting your number’ so that you can finally retire and ‘be free’.

Have Christians been complicit in this narrative? What can be done to reform our views of work, rest, aging, and retirement in a new moment in global history?[14]

Pathways forward

The time has come to change our views about retirement—not only for the sake of the global economy, but for the sake of the millions of men and women, like my father, who are longing to make a meaningful contribution with their lives, but live in a society that has relegated them to the margins.

Christians have started to reimagine retirement, but efforts to date are incomplete. Some Christians have attempted to baptize the idea of the retirement village, without a deeper view of age, rest, vocation, and elderhood. Several of these faith-based living communities exist around the world, yet look very much like secular retirement communities, complete with pools, shopping, happy hour, and golf courses. The only visible difference is more Bible studies.

Other leading voices are calling for Christians never to retire. ‘Lord, spare me the curse of retirement!’, says John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Yet the problem with the ‘never retire’ stance is that people are tired—sometimes physically, almost always spiritually—from their careers. When we observe that 87 percent of the world is disengaged from their work[15] and that many have made their work their religion,[16] it becomes understandable that as soon as people are eligible to retire, they generally do.[17] What is needed is a recovery of the balance between work and rest, not a call to plough the thistles and thorns until you die (Gen 3:17-18).

Other proposals from Christians call for various versions of ‘refirement’ or ‘rehirement’—calls to muster new energy in retirement—but often fail to acknowledge that work can, and should, change as we age. The closest the Bible comes to the subject of retirement is Numbers 8:25: ‘And from the age of 50 years they [the Levites] shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more’. Since hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle was hard physical labor, later in life Levites were commanded to ‘minister to their brothers in the tent of the meeting’, a hint that God did not intend for our work to stop completely, but to morph and mature with age.[18]

Finally, many aging churches and denominations organize a ‘seniors’ ministry’ for the ‘elderly’; but can we do better than pulling older adults out of society and recruiting them to be door greeters?

Four practical suggestions

Here are four practical ways to bring biblical hope to the millions of men and women approaching or experiencing retirement:

1.     Encourage rhythms of rest, renewal and re-engagement as people enter retirement.

What if Christian leaders across the world encouraged those entering retirement to take an intentional three, six, or twelve months of Sabbath rest, rather than planning for a vacation? Leviticus 25 and the Ten Commandments suggest that God intends not only for a day of rest, but seasons of rest, in order to reorient the heart to trust God, re-center one’s identity in being God’s people, and heal social divides.

Brad Hewitt, the recently retired CEO of Thrivent Financial, says: ‘After being in executive leadership for 25 years, I decided to take a sabbatical before the next season of service. I know I need to slow down before I jump into something else. This sabbatical season may be short, yet at the end I trust God will show me the next place or way to serve.’ Hewitt plans on a six-month sabbatical to pray, be silent, rebuild old relationships, and listen to God’s call for his next assignment.

2.     Change the conversation from one of benefits to championing the work of elders in our communities.

Today, conversations around retirement are often embroiled in controversy. As pension funds buckle (like that of the state of Illinois, which has a USD 134 billion hole in its public pension system[19]), older adults are often seen as a problem to be solved. To call somebody ‘elderly’ is an insult. However, the Judaeo-Christian tradition shows us elders were once associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age (Lev 19:32).

As older Americans re-engage in both paid and unpaid roles, the way to normalize this biblical notion of ‘love your neighbor’ through our vocations in the latter years is through storytelling. Marc Freedman, the talented CEO of Encore.org, is leading the way in telling these stories of intergenerational friendships, civic service, and the counter-cultural decision to work—even after ‘retirement’.[20]

3.     Challenge financial advisors to counsel their clients to consider the different seasons of work over a lifetime.

The cultural caretakers of the idea of retirement are financial advisors, and they have a critical role to play in the future of an aging world. Rather than unthinkingly adopting secular notions of retirement as self-focused pleasure, what if they spoke with clients about seasons of work and rest over a lifetime?

Alongside encouraging generous giving, wise spending, prudent saving, and investing in businesses that align with God’s good purposes for the world, financial advisors could be the key change agents in healing broken notions of vocation and elderhood for an aging world.[21]

4.     Encourage intergenerational relationships in the church.

Elders have much to give a coming generation. Rather than practicing age-segregation, many churches are deploying the elders of their congregation for the well-being of a coming generation:

  • Providence Mount St Vincent’s Intergenerational Learning Center in Seattle—the subject of the documentary film ‘The Growing Season’—has excelled at spawning intergenerational relationships.[22]
  • St John’s-St Margaret’s Church in Singapore has built Project Spring-Winter,[23] inspired in part by Zechariah’s vision, ‘Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem. . . and the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets’, (Zech 8:4-5).

A biblical picture of retirement is not one of heroism nor hedonism, but listening to God’s voice and responding in love as elders, intent on sharing wisdom and blessing with the next generation. It is simply a life of service, pointing beyond our self to the Servant in whose image we are made.

I recently called my father. He told me he was contemplating a new way to spend his retirement. After caring for his dying sister, and having always felt an acute concern for ailing family and friends, he told me that after a career in advertising he was going to attend a training session to become a hospice volunteer at Knute Nelson Hospice in Alexandria, Minnesota.

‘I think I could do that, Jeff’, he told me, contemplating a new vocation. ‘I visited my dying friend Hugh today. It was a powerful reminder of what a beautiful gift each new day is.’

Jeff Haanen is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and the founder and CEO of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. He lives in Colorado, USA, with his wife and four daughters.


Endnotes

[1] This story was adapted from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life (Chicago: Moody, 2019).

[2] Editor’s Note: See article by Peter Brierley, entitled, ‘The Aging Church and Its Implications’, in May 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2016-05/ aging-church-implications.

[3] Glenn Kessler, ‘Do 10,000 Baby Boomers Retire Every Day?’ Wall Street Journal, 24 July 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2014/07/24/do-10000-baby-boomers-retire-every-day/?utm_term=.b8f3e33fe0b1.

[4] Marc Freedman, ‘Building Bridges Across the Generational Divide’, Wall Street Journal, 1 November 2018, http://webreprints.djreprints.com/4460340932488.html.

[5] Wan He, Daniel Goodkind, and Paul Kowal, ‘An Aging World: 2015’, United States Census Bureau, March 2016, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p95-16-1.pdf.

[6] Conrace Hackett and David McClendon, ‘Christians Remain World’s Largest Religious Group, But They Are Declining in Europe’, Pew Research Center, April 5, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/05/christians-remain-worlds-largest-religious-group-but-they-are-declining-in-europe/.

[7] ‘No Matter Your Age, Ignore It At Your Peril’, 100 Year Life website, accessed on 28 December 2017: http://www.100yearlife.com/the-challenge/.

[8] ‘Social Security Plan Robs from Future to Pay for Past’, USA Today, 13 February 2019: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/02/13/democrats-social-security-plan-robs-future-pay-past-editorials-debates/2861184002/, emphasis mine.

[9] John Mauldin, ‘Europe’s Pension Funds Are Running Low as Boomer Retire’, Forbes, 2 July 2018: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmauldin/2018/07/02/europes-pension-funds-are-running-low-as-boomers-retire/#329a34af63a0.

[10] Charlie Campbell, ‘China’s Aging Population is a Major Threat to Its Future’, TIME, 7 February 2019: http://time.com/5523805/china-aging-population-working-age/.

[11] Nancy Cook, ‘Will Baby Boomers Change the Meaning of Retirement?’, The Atlantic, 18 June 2015: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/baby-boomers-retirement/396950/.

[12] Heather Gillers, Anne Tergesen and Leslie Scism, ‘A Generation of Americans is Entering Old Age the Least Prepared in Decades’, The Wall Street Journal, 22 June 2018, https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-generation-of-americans-is-entering-old-age-the-least-prepared-in-decades-1529676033?mod=hp_lead_pos5.

[13] Nick Thornton, ‘Here’s What the $27 Trillion US Retirement Industry Looks Like’, Think Advisor, 2 January 2018, https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/01/02/heres-what-the-27-trillion-us-retirement-industry/?slreturn=20180714204623.

[14] Editor’s Note: See article by Mats Tunehag, entitled, ‘Creating and Sharing Wealth’, in May 2019 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-05/creating-and-sharing-wealth.

[15] ‘The Engaged Employee’, Gallup, https://www.gallup.com/services/190118/engaged-workplace.aspx.

[16] Derek Thompson, ‘Workism is Making Americans Miserable’, The Atlantic, 24 February 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/02/religion-workism-making-americans-miserable/583441/.

[17] ‘American Project Average Retirement Age’, Gallup, https://news.gallup.com/poll/234302/snapshot-americans-project-average-retirement-age.aspx.

[18] Jeff Haanen, ‘Saving Retirement’, Christianity Today, 15 February 2019, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/march/cover-story-saving-retirement.html.

[19] Amanda Albright and Danielle Moran, ‘Illinois Turns Warily to Bonds to Plug $134 Billion Pension Hole’, Bloomberg, February 20, 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-20/why-bonds-seen-as-fix-for-illinois-s-134-billion-pension-hole.

[20] For more information, visit Encore.org.

[21] Jeff Haanen, ‘A Manifesto for Financial Advisors’, available at: https://www.uncommonretirement.com/financial-advisors.

[22] ‘The Growing Season’, Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=66&v=6K3H2VqQKcc.

[23] Project Spring-Winter, http://psw.sjsm.org.sg. Thank you to Eunice Nichols for making me aware of both ‘The Growing Season’ and Project Spring-Winter.

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CultureTheologyWork

What’s Really Happening to American Christianity?

The Pew Research Center recently published an alarming report: “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Since 2009, the religiously unaffiliated have risen from 17% of the population to 26% in 2018/19.  And today only 65% of Americans identify as Christians, down from 77% only a decade ago.

The report points out that there’s a generational dynamic at work as well. A full 8 in 10 members of the Silent Generation are Christians, as are 3/4 baby boomers. Yet today, less than half of Millennials call themselves Christians, and 4/10 are religious “nones.”  That is, when asked about their religious affiliation, they respond “nothing in particular.” There are now 30 million more “nones” in America than there were just a decade ago.

Sobering stuff. Whether it be church attendance or looking at the religious preferences of Whites, Blacks or Hispanics, the decline of Christian belief in the past generation of Americans seems to be picking up steam.

Some push back on this thesis. Glenn Stanton, a conservative researcher at Focus on the Family, claims that news headlines about the “dying church” are overblown. He accurately points out that the greatest numerical declines are in mainline churches, and that the numbers of evangelical Christians are holding strong. Indeed, even Pew reports that though the overall number of Protestants among US adults has declined from 51% in 2009 to 43%% in 2019, among Protestants the number of evangelicals has grown in the last decade from 56% to 59%.

Stanton and others point out what is happening is that the “middle is falling out.” That is, those who used to be nominally Christian now feel no need to say they’re a Christian of any sort when a pollster asks. So many of these people get lopped into the “nones” category but are not necessarily atheist or agnostic. “Nones” is a complex category of those without strong ties to a denomination or faith tradition.

Historically American exceptionalism held true in religion. As other rich countries secularized rapidly, especially in Europe, America didn’t follow suit. But since 1990, we now have about 30 years of data that says belief is indeed falling in the US.

What sense should we make of this data?

Though I wouldn’t use the word “crisis,” (the internet doesn’t need one more alarmist article), I would like to lay out three problems that confessing Christians need to pay attention to as belief recedes in America.

(1) The politicization of faith is reshaping how Christians express their faith in public and how they’re perceived by the broader culture.

As I read over these Pew research findings, I ask, “How would many of the Christian young adults in Denver respond to the question: ‘Are you a born-again evangelical?’”

My guess is that many wouldn’t claim the term “evangelical” because the word now has political and fundamentalist connotations. Though we work with many who would consider themselves theologically conservative, they’re also culturally-engaged, justice-minded, and have found themselves exiled from either the political right or left. As pastor Tim Keller has eloquently said for many, historic Christianity doesn’t fit into a two-party system

Senior writer for The Atlantic Derek Thompson makes a convincing case that a few historical factors led to American losing its faith. One was the moral majority, led by figures such as James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson, aligned Christian belief with Republican politics. Another factor was that after 9/11, all religion got lopped together with extremism. Either way, there are millions that now hold orthodox Christian belief, but don’t align with either the right or the left.

I see this every day at Denver Institute. As a matter of fact, my guess is that one of the main drivers of event attendance is that there’s a growing number of Christians (and, I’d argue, a good number of the “spiritual but not religious”) who want to distance themselves from political narratives about faith, but desperately want to find “their tribe.” They want to find others who care about faith and our culture, yet don’t find those communities either in their churches or their places of work. They’re looking simply for like-minded friends.

As old alliances peter out, a growing number of philanthropists, investors, business leaders, and other professionals are embracing vocation as a way of being public about faith without being political. Teaching students, attending to patients, serving clients, and fielding customer calls can be every bit as much a public act of faith as voting.

Indeed, I’d say daily work is becoming central to a growing number of Christians who are committed to living out the Lord’s prayer “May your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” yet are uncomfortable with the categories placed on them by a shifting culture.

(2) The retreat from culture sounds appealing…but it isn’t a real option.

In the past several years, some have suggested that attempts to renew culture should be abandoned completely and we should prepare for a new dark ages, in which Christian communities can only preserve the knowledge of the truth – like medieval monastic communities – as culture caravans into an abyss.

Yet my conviction is that a retreat from culture undersells how deeply connected we are in the modern economy. For every meal we eat, for every message we send, for every mile we drive, we need each other.

We can’t fully retreat from culture. Culture is the air we breathe.

The world we live in influences our emotions, our thoughts, and our dreams. And by not talking about these realities in our faith communities (or by simply turning up the worship music and smoke machines) what generally happens is that we unthinkingly adopt the norms of the world around us.

Which leads me to my last point….

(3) The accommodation to a secular culture poses a real problem for Christians.

Why is it that social media and news is filled with such vitriol, including many who profess Christian belief? Ed Stetzer, a missiologist at Wheaton College, has helped to sort this one out for me in a single image.

The short of it: Fifty years ago, the broad cultural consensus on social issues had a Judeo-Christian consensus. This included “convictional Christians” (those who really believe the doctrines of historic Christianity) as well as congregational Christians (occasional church attenders) and cultural Christians (those who don’t attend church by just call themselves Christians because of family or tradition.)

Today, that consensus has drastically shifted. Today the broad cultural consensus is secular on most social issues, and those who hold traditional views feel backed into a shrinking corner. Hence, you get many self-professed Christians who seem to be among the most combative voices out there, hoping to recover a nostalgic vision of American Christian that supposedly peaked in post-WWII America.

Here’s what I think. There are many Christians who are searching for a way to be hopeful yet not combative; who want to be faithful to the countercultural way of Jesus yet engaged with the world around them; who are among the many “Christians who drink beer” and are tired of the culture wars, yet are simultaneously deeply concerned about the world we live in.

Yet in my view, there are very, very few models for this kind of life.  If I work for a Fortune 500 company, what practices should I embrace, and which should I abstain from? What does faith look like in the immensity of modern health care? When has my faith become individualistic and consumeristic? How should I practice my faith in my family, community, or workplace? When have I accommodated to mainstream secular culture, and what on earth does it mean to be “distinctly Christian” in a pluralistic society? How shall Christians remain “activated” as followers of Christ during the week

In our post-Christian culture, we are no longer Nehemiah, trying to rebuild the walls around a once-great Jerusalem. We are now Daniel, looking for ways to be faithful to God in Babylon.

Actually, doing this requires hard thinking, faithful imagination, and robust communities of practice – communities that we’ve only just begun to build.

ArtWork

The Way of Nature, The Way of Grace – Tree of Life

Recently I attended an event on faith and the arts. Erik Lokkesmoe of Aspiration Entertainment told a moving story. A secular journalist who had recently seen Terrence Malick’s film “The Tree of Life,” bluntly told him, “I call bullshit on all churches who don’t send busloads of their people to see this movie.”

We then sat, about 90 of us, in a small art studio in Denver and watched the clip above from the opening monologue.

Since then, I’ve watched it about 10 times. I pause. I listen. And I’ve been ruminating on the quote below. Do I live the way of nature or the way of grace? Do I accept slights, or do I look out for just myself?

As I repeatedly watch this, I feel something heal inside me.

I offer this clip and quote to you here for your own reflection.

“The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

“Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

“Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.

“They taught us that no one who ever loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.

“I will be true to you. Whatever comes.” 

– Terrence Malick 


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