Jeff Haanen

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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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Health CareVocationWork

Making All Things New – Jeanne Oh Kim, Pediatrician

In the last of several posts, here I’m highlighting the first-hand experiences of four professionals in Denver. Each of them shared at our annual fundraiser and celebration of vocation, entitle “Making All Things New: Finding Our Place in God’s Mission.” We asked them what they sense is broken in their industries, and how they sense God was using them in his plan to ultimately “make all things new.” Jeanne is a physician living in Denver

As a physician, I work in the confines of a broken medical system with sometimes few answers in relation to the infinitely complex human body.  There is always new evidence to challenge previous practices.  There is also pressure to see over 20 patients a day, which can pose a challenge to meet the true needs of my patients and families at times, especially, since we are in the middle of a mental health crisis, with patients experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicide at an all-time high.  Families are also broken.  Parents are extremely anxious and look to “the University of Google” and certain blood tests to provide answers, while often just feeding this anxiety. 

I believe we are created with a mind, body, and spirit.  Sometimes an illness just attacks the body like with an infection.  However, disease or illness may be from brokenness in our mind or spirit, and it is challenging when families do not know that Jesus is the only way to true healing.  

Each day, I pray for wisdom in how to bring the power and reality of the Kingdom into my exam rooms and that my patients and their families can experience Jesus through me.  I pray that I can see them as He does, beautiful and loved by Him.  By partnering with the Holy Spirit, I may pray in my head over a person, and when I feel led, I will ask patients if they would like me to pray with them and allow God to come and heal supernaturally, as only He can.

It is challenging work, but I feel honored to be able to serve God through my ministry to my patients and their families.  

Through my work as a pediatrician, Christ is making all things new.

Will you join us? become a monthly donor today.

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BusinessEconomyFinanceRetirementWork

A Manifesto for Financial Advisors

Financial advisors play a critical role in the future of America.

They are stewards of a sacred trust, helping clients to save money for when they can no longer work, live a life of generosity, invest in businesses that align with God’s purposes for the world, spend wisely, and re-discover their calling to work and serve their neighbors over a lifetime.

If you’re a financial advisor, or you know one, what might it look like integrate Christian truth into this entire field, a $27 trillion-dollar industry that is shaping the destinies of millions?[i] (Click here to access a free downloadable pdf of this “Manifesto for Financial Advisors.”)

Here’s a place to begin.

1.Christian financial advisors help clients save money for when they can no longer work.

Saving is wise (Proverbs 21:20). Financial advisors have the privilege of encouraging people to prepare for the day when they cannot work due to old age or health. They also have the honor of helping clients still have enough to share with others (Proverbs 13:22; 1 Timothy 6:17-19).

But Christian financial advisors resolutely resist the narrative about saving for retirement built on utopian dreams of travel, never-ending vacation, and a care-free lifestyle. They recognize that sin and the Fall have affected all people, both wealthy and poor, and that there is no such dream of heaven on earth until Christ comes again. They also boldly call into question fear-based motives for saving in retirement, pointing people to trust God alone for their daily bread.

Also, since retirement (the cessation of work for a lifetime) is essentially a foreign concept to the Bible, Christian financial advisors work diligently to help people save for the day when they can no longer work due to health concerns, not for the day when they don’t want to work.

To work is to be human.

Financials advisors help their clients save money for retirement in order to provide for themselves in old age or illness, their family, and their community.

2. Christian financial advisors encourage clients to live a life of generosity.

God’s call to generous giving could not be clearer (Matthew 6:19-21; 10:42; Luke 21:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:12-15; 1 John 3:16-18; Proverbs 11:24-25). Generous living most closely reflects God’s grace toward his people (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Christian financial advisors counsel clients toward sacrificial giving toward the mission of the church, the well-being of the poor, and the critical social, economic, and cultural needs of our day. They explore creative ways to facilitate their clients giving their cash, assets, time, skills, relationships, and influence. They lead by example.

Even though Christian financial advisors often don’t have a financial incentive to encourage generosity amongst their clients, they do so anyway because God first gave generously to them (John 3:16). 

3. Christian financial advisors counsel their clients to invest in businesses that align with God’s purposes for the world.

Christian financial advisors believe that God owns everything (Psalm 24:1), including both their client’s money and also the money that is invested in companies through stocks, bonds, and mutual funds.

They are leaders in the space of socially responsible investing (some Christians also call this values-based investing, or biblically responsible investing). They believe God’s purpose for business is to provide for the needs of world by serving customers and creating meaningful work, while giving glory to God.[ii] Profit, therefore, is a means to an end, not the end of business. They believe investments are intended to help businesses grow and bless their communities. Christian financial advisors also believe business has been tainted by the Fall, and today corporations, like individuals, are bent toward greed and injustice (Micah 6:8-10). There are no “neutral” investments.

Inasmuch as they are able, Christian financial advisors seek out investments for their clients that align with their client’s values and God’s good purposes for business. They take leadership in providing ample returns for their clients and multiplied societal blessing through their client’s investments.[iii]

4. Christian financial advisors counsel their clients to spend wisely.

God has given us money to be enjoyed and spent wisely. But Christian financial advisors also recognize that “godliness with contentment is great gain,” and Christian history is filled with vows of poverty and commitment to simple living for the sake of more deeply enjoying the riches of Christ (1 Timothy 6:6, 17-19).  Frugality is not a curse but a means to experiencing the abundance of God’s love, care, and heavenly riches.

Christian financial advisors are uniquely able to speak to our cultural moment and the current “retirement crisis” because they believe God himself, not the pleasures of this world, is our greatest joy. They believe in a deeper wealth than what money can offer.[iv]

Christian financial advisors counsel their clients to avoid debt, live within their means, defer gratification, and discover non-consumeristic ways to enjoy life and God’s good world.

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

Christian financial advisors see God’s pattern of six days of work and one day of rest as a blessing that lasts for a lifetime.

Rather than preparing clients to completely cease from work at retirement, they encourage sabbaticals and seasons of rest to renew a sense of calling for the next phase of life.

Therefore, they are instigators of a deeply counter-cultural movement. They begin to help clients save money for both sabbaticals and for when their clients can no longer work. They ask pointed questions to help their clients see a deeper purpose to life than entertainment or pleasure.  Christian financial advisors, then, become sages, mentors, theologians, and philosophers who help their clients prepare for the next season of work, whether they are 60, 70, or 80 years old.[v]

Christian financial advisors are the innovators who call for a new movement of work, sabbatical, and re-engagement based on God’s design for work over a lifetime (Leviticus 25).[vi] They openly challenge the Let’s vacation paradigm of retirement, and honor the men and women who work later in life as the dignified elders of our churches, communities, and society.

They are the first to point out the valuable, brilliant, and creative work of men and women stewarding their skills, knowledge, and abilities into the sunset of their lives.

For a free downloadable version of this manifesto, visit https://www.uncommonretirement.com/financial-advisors.


[i] Nick Thornton, “Here’s What the $27 Trillion US Retirement Industry Looks Like,” Think Advisor, 2 January 2018, Accessed on August 10, 2018: https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2018/01/02/heres-what-the-27-trillion-us-retirement-industry/?slreturn=20180714204623.

[ii] Jeff Haanen, “Theology for Business (Video),” Denver Institute for Faith & Work, Accessed on August 1, 2018: https://denverinstitute.org/video-the-purpose-of-business-today/.

[iii] Organizations like the Christian Investment Forum and faith-friendly mutual funds like Eventide Funds actively explore how to pursue competitive returns for their shareholders while upholding Christian values. For examples of philosophies of Christian faith and investing, watch the video “Investing 360 – The Story of Eventide Funds”: https://vimeo.com/223488058 or read “Integrating Faith Into the Way We Invest,” by Tim Macready, CIO of Christian Super, an Australian Pension Fund: https://denverinstitute.org/integrating-faith-way-invest/.

[iv] For an excellent treatment on faith, money, and retirement, see: Chad S. Hamilton, Deep Wealth (Denver: PFI Publishing, 2015).

[v] I recognize this is almost unheard of today. But my thesis in this book is that this rhythm of work and rest is more biblical than the contemporary idea of retirement and it more closely aligns with God’s intent for us to work, in different capacities, over a lifetime.

[vi] Rob West, the CEO of Kingdom Advisors, a Christian ministry to financial professionals, says, “One of the roles of the advisor is to not only help the client to answer the question, ‘How much is enough financially?’ – in terms of our financial finish line so we can maximize giving – but also, ‘What are you going to do in the retirement season?’ Even if we stop our vocation, what are we going to do to be of service to the Lord full-time for God’s glory?” Both Rob West and Ron Blue, the founder of Ron Blue Co. believe both wise financial decisions and a lifetime of work, which changes in different seasons, are biblical.

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RetirementVocationWork

Today is Launch Day! An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life

Dear Friends,

Today is the official launch day for my first trade book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life.

We have an opportunity in this moment to push on our culture’s view of retirement, and give our friends, parents, family members, neighbors, and co-workers a more beautiful vision of work, rest, eldership, and a life a sacrificial love based in the hope of the gospel.

In the coming weeks, I’ll post on this blog excerpts from the book. Can I ask you a big favor? Would you consider taking about 3 minutes and posting a review of the book on Amazon.com today?

Here are a few themes you might consider mentioning. An Uncommon Guide for Retirement helps readers:

  • Discern God’s call for their retirement years;
  • Challenge cultural assumptions about retirement;
  • Adopt a healthy vision for Sabbath rest, work and meaningful contribution for a lifetime;
  • Embrace a biblical view of time and a deeper understanding of what human longevity means for the retirement years;
  • Live out practical insight for retirement living on topics like learning, family systems, mentoring, and health.

Thanks for allowing me to to learn from you. If you’d like more information on the book, group discounts or the free study guide, make sure to visit UncommonRetirement.com. And feel free to leave comments on this blog!

Thanks again,
Jeff

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CultureWork

Why We Should Redeem Retirement (ERLC)

“What am I going to do with my retirement?” 

The anxious question came from Anne Bell, a recently retired researcher at the University of Northern Colorado. As a staff volunteer for the 5280 Fellowship, a young leaders program in Denver, Anne decided to give her first year of retirement to young professionals struggling with questions about calling. Bright and soft-spoken, wearing dark-rimmed glasses and carrying her teacher’s bag, today Anne came to the office with her own questions about calling. 

As our staff team discussed our weekly reading, Anne looked out on the snow-capped mountains from our seventh-story office. “What do you think, Anne?” I asked. She paused. Her voice began to quiver. “I just don’t know what I’m called to,” she confessed. “I need to know what’s next.”

The world is undergoing a massive demographic shift. Nearly 80 million Baby Boomers will retire in the next 20 years, at a rateof nearly 10,000 per day. By 2035, Americans of retirement age will exceed the number of people under age 18 for the first time in U.S. history. Globally, the number of people age 60 and over is projected to double to more than two billion by 2050. 

But today a growing number of Baby Boomers like Anne Bell – both Christians and their neighbors – are discontent with current cultural assumptions about retirement, and are asking better questions about work, calling, and purpose later in life. 

Today, the dominant paradigm of retirement is about vacation – how to afford it, and then how to make the most of it. A Google search for the word “retirement” shows articles, ads, and tips on how to save enough money for it, and a host of books on how to enjoy it. Retirement gifts follow suit: a coffee mug that reads “Goodbye Tension, Hello Pension.” A kitchen wall-hanging with the acronym R.E.T.I.R.E says Relax, Entertain, Travel, Indulge, Read, Enjoy. The wine glass that reads, “I can wine all I want. I’m retired.” 

Yet cracks are showing in the hull of the never-ending vacation view of retirement. More Boomers are questioning whether living in a Corona commercial can satisfy the heart’s longing for purpose over a lifetime – even if they could afford it. Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality writes, “Retirement is an illusion because those who can afford the illusion are disillusioned by it, and those who cannot afford the illusion are haunted by it.

Some church leaders have responded by saying retirement isn’t “biblical,” (which is of course true, since retirement is a modern construct. The closest the Bible comes is Number 8:25.) “Lord, spare me the curse of retirement!” says John Piper, the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis and best-selling author. The late Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, said, “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement…Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”

Yet the problem here is that most people can’t imagine working 30, 40, or even 50 years without more than two weeks off. Work is often painful. Mind-numbing tasks, humiliating bosses, a lack of autonomy, crammed schedules, co-worker conflict, new technology, oppressive hours. The author of Ecclesiastes writes: “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind,” (2:17). Work can be creative service. It can also be toilsome pain. 

Might the gospel lead the world’s aging population to a new way forward, which both questions the “dream vacation” view of retirement and a life of unbroken work?

Becoming elders, not elderly 

A new generation of older Americans are seeing retirement as a chance to take a season of sabbatical rest in order to listen to God’s voice, rethink work, and commit to serving their families, neighbors, co-workers and communities as elders.

Bradford Hewitt retired in November 2018 from his role leading Thrivent Financial, a Fortune 500 not-for-profit financial services organization with a faith-based mission. “After being in an executive leadership role for 25 years, I’m planning for the next stage of service,” says Hewitt. “Before I start, I decided to do a sabbatical. The pace of being in leadership is intense. My idea of a sabbatical is just the opposite. I know I need to slow down and listen to God’s voice before I jump into something else.”

More Christians like Hewitt are spending early retirement in an intentional 3, 6, or 12 months of worship, feasting, silence, service, reflection, and learning in order recalibrate their hearts to hear the voice of the Caller.  

Rather than buy into a culture that sees old age as a problem to be solved (think of “anti-aging cream”), a new generation of older Americans is also embracing aging as a “crown of dignity,” wrinkles and all (Proverbs 16:31). 

Far from being an insult, the term “elder”was once associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age. “Stand up in the presence of the aged,” says Leviticus (19:32). The term elder (zaqen) is used in the Old Testament as an indication of one’s nobility. The elder taught wisdom at the city gate, the ancient place for public dialogue (Job 32:6–10). 

Gordon Smith, president of Ambrose University in Calgary, believes two ideas – wisdom and blessing – are the biblical model for fruitful living in retirement. “To bless is simply to affirm the other, to take particular delight and joy in the other in a nonjudgmental manner,” he writes. 

Smith tells the story of speaking at a family camp for Christian doctors and dentists. “These men seemed to have no other agenda than to enjoy the teens at the camp. And they had an immeasurable influence on my two [teenage] sons,” Smith remembers. “It seemed like they never used the word should, which all teens hate, and had no other plan than to bless my sons and the teens at the camp.” 

The psalmist writes, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,”(92:12-14). Retirement may not be biblical. But becoming an elder filled with life, hope, memory, and wisdom for a coming generation certainly is.

This is an adapted excerpt from my book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life (Moody Publishers, May 2019) and was recently posted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

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EconomyWork

Saving Retirement (Christianity Today, March 2019)

Growing old is not what it used to be. For millions of retirees, that may actually be good news.

Pat Poole felt a mix of relief and uncertainty once he decided to retire from his sales management job at Halliburton at the end of March. An Oklahoma Sooners football fan and an avid golfer, Poole looked forward to more leisure time after leaving the Houston-based global oil service company. But he also had questions. One morning, he put down the TV remote and asked his wife with complete sincerity, “What am I going to do?”  

The world is undergoing a massive demographic shift. More than 70 million Baby Boomers will retire in the next 20 years in the United States alone. By 2035, Americans of retirement age will exceed the number of people under age 18 for the first time in US history. Globally, the number of people age 60 and over is projected to double to more than 2 billion by 2050.

But as retirement looms for Baby Boomers, a growing number of them—both Christians and their neighbors—are discontented with current cultural assumptions about it. They’re asking new questions about money, work, time, family, leisure, and a life of purpose.

As Americans live longer, “we do not know what we will be doing with all that time,” Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, told The Atlantic. Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, authors of 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, point out that for that people are living longer than ever before, and the average retiree can expect to live another 20-30 years.

What retirees consistently say they want to do with their time in retirement is spend it with family. But what happens when the realities of caring for needy adult children, looking after aging parents, and spending newfound hours every day with a spouse conflict with desires for rest and leisure? And how much leisure is too much? One study found that inactivity in retirement can increase chances of clinical depression by 40 percent.

Anne Bell, a recently retired researcher at the University of Northern Colorado, spent a year early in her retirement volunteering with the 5280 Fellowship, a leadership development program in Denver. Bright and soft spoken, Bell was speaking one day to a group of early-career professionals when she found herself wiping away a tear. “I’m really searching for what I’m called to,” she confessed. “I just want to know what’s next.”

Bell is one of millions of Baby Boomers, the majority of whom are Christians, who are asking new questions about a new society. Yet considering retirement is one of the most widespread experiences of an aging world,  the Church has been almost silent on the topic.  

Leaving Paradise

The idea of retirement as a never-ending vacation was popularized in the 1950s by developers and the financial services industry. Indeed, the financial services industry—with an estimated total value of $27 trillion—is deeply dependent on the idea. A Google search for the word “retirement” returns a host of retirement calculators and articles on 401ks and IRAs—and images of gray-haired couples blissfully holding hands, walking white-sanded beaches. The message: Save enough, and you too can have paradise.

It’s an ironic picture, given that at its founding in 1958 even the AARP—the world’s largest nonprofit devoted to advocating for seniors—was encouraging retirees “to serve, not to be served.”

But the vacation ideal of retirement has led to a number of unsatisfying options for older Christians across the developed world. First, the dream itself is showing cracks in the hull. “At first, I kind of enjoyed the novelty of it. I felt like I was playing hooky,” says Ben Whittaker, the 70-year-old widower in the 2015 film The Intern, written by fellow Boomer Nancy Meyers. “I used all the miles I’d saved and traveled the globe. The problem was, no matter where I went, the ‘nowhere-to-be’ thing hit me like a ton of bricks. … I know there’s a hole in my life, and I need to fill it. Soon.”

Margaret Mark, former head of research at the advertising agency Young & Rubicam, interviewed retired Americans (age 55 to 70) across socioeconomic spectrums. They reported a love for their newfound freedom and lauded the glories of no longer having a commute. Yet when asked about their overall happiness in retirement, doubts crept in. They reported a powerful sense of loneliness. Even though they had more time for family and friends, they missed the bonds they experienced at work, or “relationships with a purpose.”

In short, retirement as a never-ending vacation is, for many, much more appealing before they actually try it.

Millions more Americans are realizing they could not afford that vacation even if they wanted it, and are instead worried they may not be able to afford basic necessities. The average retirement assets of those aged 50-59 in 2013 were just $110,000, yet they would need $250,000 just to sustain $10,000 a year in retirement income. According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 40 percent of households headed by people ages 55-70 (about 15 million people) lack sufficient resources to maintain their standard of living in retirement. And as traditional pensions disappear for younger workers, one-third of American adults have no retirement savings at all.

As Mitch Anthony, author of The New Retirementality, put it:“Retirement is an illusion because those who can afford the illusion are disillusioned by it, and those who cannot afford the illusion are haunted by it.”

Quickly establishing itself as an alternative to the “let’s vacation” paradigm is a widespread movement toward “encore careers.” Promoted by leaders like Marc Freedman, president and CEO of Encore.org, the story is that retirement isn’t about leisure as much as social entrepreneurship and civic engagement. “Our enormous and rapidly growing older population—commonly portrayed as a burden to the nation and a drain on future generations—is a vast, untapped social resource,” writes Freedman in his book, Prime Time. “If we can engage these individuals in ways that fill urgent gaps in our society, the result would be a windfall for American civic life in the twenty-first century.”

In the past generation, many Christians have bought into the view of retirement as a time to change the world. Two decades ago, Nelson Malwitz was a 50-year-old corporate director at Sealed Air Corporation, the company that invented Bubble Wrap. Stuck in a mid-life crisis, he helped to start the finishing well movement, a gathering of early retirees in the late 1990s hoping to find significance in second-career overseas missions. Drawing from Bob Buford’s popular book Halftime, many older Americans hoped to go “from success to significance” after they retired from “secular work.”  

There’s a lot to praise about the encore movement. It swaps a vision of consumption for service, acquiring for giving, and points out the obvious: Today we tell productive, bright, able citizens in their 60s to stop working and start collecting a pension—often during the prime of their career.

Yet some Christians are wary of promises of overabundant “significance” through encore careers. I asked Fred Smith, the recently-retired president of The Gathering, an annual conference for Christian philanthropists, what he thought about the idea of significance. “It’s like drinking salt water,” he said. “Looking for significance from external things is still competing for somebody else’s ‘OK.’ It just leaves you thirsty.”  Ironically, the same exhausting treadmill of a career can follow the recently retired into more “meaningful work.”

The most prominent Christian voices on retirement today point out  that retirement isn’t “biblical”—which is, of course, true, since retirement is a modern construct. “Lord, spare me the curse of retirement!” says John Piper, the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis and bestselling author. The late Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, echoed Piper’s sentiment: “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement. … Where in the Bible do they see [retirement]? Did Moses retire? Did Paul retire? Peter? John? Do military officers retire in the middle of a war?”

The closest the Bible comes to retirement is Numbers 8:25: “And from the age of fifty years they [the Levites] shall withdraw from the duty of the service and serve no more.” Hauling around the furniture of the tabernacle was hard physical labor. However, later in life, Levites were commanded to “minister to their brothers in the tent of the meeting”—a hint that God didn’t intend for our work to stop completely, but to morph and mature with age.

Yet the main problem with the “resist retirement” view is that most people cannot imagine working nonstop for 40, 50 or even 60 years.  In Habits of the Heart, sociologistRobert Bellah interviewed executives, government employees, school teachers, and small-businesspeople on how they felt about retirement. He found they were “sick of working,” hated “the pressure,” had “paid their dues,” and “wanted to get out of the rat race.” The appeal of the vacation paradigm for aging Americans is an under-recognized spiritual (and often physical) exhaustion and pain that can accompany a lifetime of work (Ecclesiastes 2:17; Genesis 3:17-19).  

So overwhelmingly, those who can retire, do.

Redeeming Retirement

Yet many Christians today are choosing a contrarian path, eschewing both the never-ending vacation and the life of unbroken work. In an age where structures for older Americans lag behind their aspirations for a meaningful life, the church is beginning to experiment with new paradigms for living a fully human life in retirement. 

From Vacation to Sabbatical

“Linda and I decided to take a purposeful pause to listen for God’s voice, ” says Barry Rowan. In 2006, Rowan was the CFO of Nextel Partners, a wireless phone company. After years of high-pressure positions, he decided to take a sabbatical rather than to completely retire and cease from all work.

The word vacation derives from the Latine vacare, from which we get “to vacate, make empty, make void.” Many see retirement as a chance to “vacate” their lives, whether on the beaches of Mexico or the mountains of Colorado. But Rowan says, “I left my time off with a deeper level of surrender and a deeper appreciation that I had become less, and God had become more in me.”

Some are now seeing retirement as a social construct that allows them to take an intentional three, six, or 12 months of sabbatical rest to prepare the heart for a new season of fruitfulness (Leviticus 25). Rhythms of preparation, worship, feasting, learning, simplicity, remembrance, and service, are chosen over consumption, travel, or a premature jump into a new field.

Bradford Hewitt retired in November 2018 from his role leading Thrivent Financial, a faith-based Fortune 500 financial services organization. “After being in an executive leadership role for 25 years, I’m planning for the next stage of service,” Hewitt says. But before jumping into whatever may be next, Hewitt is pausing for discernment and taking a six-month sabbatical of prayer, solitude, rebuilding friendships and eating healthier. “The pace of being a CEO is intense. My idea of a sabbatical is just the opposite. I know I need to slow down and listen to God’s voice.”

From Success to Surrender  

“I am convinced that part of the essence of vocational identity during this period of our lives [the senior years] is that we let go of power and control,” says Gordon Smith, author and president of Ambrose University in Calgary. “People listen to us because we are wise and because we bless, not because of our office or any formal structure of power.”

Releasing power allows older adults to freely give to the next generation, without the need to capture titles or wealth. “This season of life is like fly fishing,” said Fred Smith. “When I catch fish, I now don’t need to keep them. I delight in releasing them. Catch and release—this is what retirement means for me.” Ed Wekesser, a 67-year-old coach for Christian CEOs, also sees a deeper freedom in relinquishing power. I asked him what has changed about his developing sense of vocation in his 60s. “Ah, that’s simple,” he said. “It’s not about me anymore.” He says he’s now content to simply work for the success of others.

From “Old” to Eldership

Rather than buy into a culture that sees old age as a problem to be solved (think of “anti-aging cream”), a new generation of older Americans is embracing aging as a “crown of dignity,” wrinkles and all (Proverbs 16:31).

Far from being an insult, the term “elder”was once associated with wisdom, character, and leadership ability, the assumed fruit of experience and age. “Stand up in the presence of the aged,” says Leviticus (19:32). The term elder (zaqen) is used in the Old Testament as an indication of one’s nobility. The elder taught wisdom at the city gate, the ancient place for public dialogue (Job 32:6–10). Cicero, the great Roman statesman, once wrote, “The crowning grace of old age is influence.”

In that spirit, rather than retreat to retirement communities, more Boomers are seeing that retirement can be a season of unique influence. After a full career as a boutique hotelier, Chip Conley was tapped by the young founders of Airbnb to help grow the company into a hospitality giant. Though he didn’t know how to code and he was reporting to a CEO his son’s age, he embraced his role as a modern elder and blended curiosity with intergenerational friendship to shepherd the young company toward global growth.

Though flexible work arrangement for older Americans are often hard to come by, roles for mentoring are not. Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, who has written eloquently about the growing opportunity gap in America, says, “If America’s religious communities were to become seized of the immorality of the opportunity gap, mentoring is one of the ways in which they could make an immediate impact.”

From Independence to Intergenerational Living

Greg Gast is the vice president of human resources at Hudson River HealthCare, Inc., in Peekskill, New York. Greg and his wife, Nancy, decided to make a bold move and experiment with sharing a house with their oldest daughter, her husband, and their three children. Greg and Nancy take the second floor of the 5,000-square-foot house, while their children and grandchildren take the basement, leaving the main floor as a common area.

Gast says there are distinct advantages to sharing a home: They share the same cable bill, lawnmower, and coffeepot. Sharing a mortgage also helps everyone’s budget. But there are also challenges: Privacy concerns and occasional interpersonal clashes rise to the surface. “We’ve gotten better at communication,” Gast says about their relationship with their daughter and son-in-law. “It’s greatly helped to define our boundaries.”

Intergenerational living is not always easy. But it presents an opportunity for the American church to express love and honor toward retiring parents, many of whom are facing unexpected financial challenges.

From World-Changers to Simple Servants

Susan Cole is a 56-year-old music educator who taught elementary students for more than two decades. But she suffered from fibromyalgia, and the long, high-energy days had taken their toll on her health. “It was a hard decision for me,” she said. “I felt like the job both tore me down and built me up.” She decided to continue working part-time as a piano teacher at a local music school.

Just after Cole’s retirement, her mother broke her femur and her son had a relapse with alcohol addiction. “My availability was totally a God thing,” she recalls. “He was calling me to both care for my students and my family in this season. I was needed here. But I don’t ever see myself giving up teaching.”

A new generation of Boomers are opting less for civic heroism or overseas mission assignments and instead choosing for a lifetime of humble service, in both paid and unpaid roles, right where they are.  

A Scent of Resurrection

Dwight L. Moody once said, “Preparation for old age should not begin later than one’s teens. A life which is empty of purpose until 65 will not suddenly become filled on retirement.” Though that’s true, a new generation of older Americans see retirement as a contemporary social construct that affords them the opportunity to re-explore their God-given purpose for a new season of life.

Gary VanderArk is a not-so-retired physician living in south Denver. In his late 70s, he continues to teach medical students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center, serve on nearly a dozen nonprofit boards, and bike almost 20 miles a day. VanderArk was also the founder of Doctors Care, a nonprofit that has helped thousands of Colorado’s medically underserved.

With his white hair, slender fingers, and frail voice, VanderArk may seem “old.” But when you speak with him, he seems almost carefree, like a child on Christmas morning. He acknowledges human frailty and death, yet keeps serving others as if death is of no concern to him. He keeps teaching and sitting on nonprofit boards not because of social duty, but instead out of sheer delight. He is quick to listen and slow to speak. His words hold genuine gravitas. He is like “the righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon . . . They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Ps. 92:12–14).

Not all the questions about retirement have easy answers for the nearly 78 million Baby Boomers who are facing it. But many older Christians across the developed world are embracing not a vacation mentality, world-changer ethos, or grudging burden of working later in life. They are simply being ever renewed, and continue to serve God and neighbor as elders in their spheres of influence (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Retirement needs a new story. Or better yet, a very old story. J

This first appeared in the March 2019 issue of Christianity Today. It is an adapted excerpt from my forthcoming book An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life  (Moody, May 2019).

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Architecture and DesignCraftsmanship & Manual Labor

Buildings Shape Your Soul

 

That may be hard to believe, but I think Stratford Caldecott, in his excellent book Beauty for Truth’s Sake, has convincingly made the case that architecture is under girded by distinct understandings of the world. And in the modern world, due primarily to materialism and utilitarianism, beauty has been mostly lost in our buildings. And with this loss in beauty, “ugliness” has warped aspects of the human soul.

Again, that may seem extreme, but Caldecott is worth hearing on a few points. The first relationship that he explores is the vertical and the horizontal in architecture:

“One way of describing what happened to architecture is that the vertical dimension was devalued, or else that the link between the vertical and the horizontal had disintegrated…. These two dimensions are integrated in the human body, which, as the medievals rightly perceived forms a “microcosm,” a compact representation and sampler of the cosmos as a whole. We stand upright, and this very posture hints at our potential role as a mediator or high priest of creation.”

Human beings stand upright, and, unlike most animals that stand horizontal, the vertical dimension of humans makes us unique. Thus, because humans are taller than they are wide, tall buildings tend to strike us as beautiful. “Humane architecture” proportionally connects the vertical and the horizontal. Or as Caldecott puts it:

“In general, buildings that are flat tend to strike us as drab and ugly, awhile buildings with peaked roofs, with triangles and curves that connect the horizontal with the vertical, are felt to be more beautiful.”

This is fascinating to me. My first apartment was flat and had normal 8ft ceilings. In my last home, the ceilings are vaulted, and they came to a peak at more than 20ft in height. Immediately when people walked in, they commented that our home was “beautiful.” Caldecott argues that this is because it resembles a human body, the most beautiful of all created forms.

He goes on to describe which materials are perceived as the most beautiful:

“The materials of which we make our buildings are just as eloquent. Traditional materials such as wood, stone or clay speak an immediate connection with the earth. On the other hand, concrete and cement by their very nature represent the brutality of modernism—the reduction of the world to particles in order to force it into shapes of our own devising. The shaping of concrete is done from the outside, by the imposition of mechanical force, rather than from inside by growth or natural accretion.”

Again, I had never thought about this before. Materials that have a connection to the earth – stone, wood, clay – are always more “beautiful” than concrete and cement. They resemble the created order and not the harsh imposition of force by humanity on a building.

These changes in architecture have a deeply philosophical basis. At the Enlightenment, the influence of the divine on architecture (not only on churches, but on schools and public buildings as well) was diminished, and utilitarian and human ends became ultimate. Caldecott says:

“In modern times, with the rise of rationalism and materialism, the transcendent or vertical dimension was neglected as we concentrated on mastering the world around us…One these attitudes and assumptions had sufficiently penetrated the popular mentality, architects began to create buildings that reflected the modern understanding of man and the world; that is, machines for living in, spaces designed to facilitate efficient motion in a horizontal plane.”

“Spaces designed to facilitate efficient motion in a horizontal plane…” Does this not sound like nearly every school you’ve ever been in? Certainly all K-12 schools, and a good many colleges and businesses are seen as only spaced to put bodies for “getting things done.”

I think we’ve all had the experience of being in a majestic building and feeling in awe. Or we’ve been in a wood cabin and felt deeply “at home.” Whether consciously or unconsciously, we’ve all felt what it’s like to be molded by our surroundings.

Schools, churches and businesses should prioritize beautiful buildings. “But they cost so much!” Yes, they do. So save up, and build them when you have the resources. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that space is neutral. It’s not. And neither are buildings.

The buildings we reside in form our souls.

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