Retirement: The Next Season

0 comments Posted on July 2, 2019

by Jeff Haanen

We’ve said it for so long to both graduating college students and now retiring men and women that it’s become almost gospel. “Do what you’re passionate about. Follow your dreams. Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.” But is this wisdom or just hot air? 

By “vocation,” Christians have rarely if ever meant “do what you love.” More often than not, the call of God was actually a call to suffer for the sake of others. Moses was called from the desert to free the Israelites from slavery, only to be given the task of wandering the desert for forty years with a bunch of grumblers. Jeremiah was called to suffer as a prophet to the nations, a calling he rued later in his life. (“Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!” Jer. 20:14). Paul was called to be the great apostle to the Gentiles, and God tells him through Ananias, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). These “callings” are not exactly “do what you love.” 

The biblical view of calling speaks to a much deeper satisfaction of following God in every circumstance, come what may. 

Gordon Marino, a professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota wrote an op-ed for the New York Times recounting stories of college students “rubbing their hands together, furrowing their brows” wondering if they should become doctors, philosophers, or stand-up comics. Yet many people in Northfield, he noticed, get up each day and lay roofing tiles or deliver news- papers, and worry very little about “do what you love.” His dad was one of them. (So was mine.) The rub is that the “ideal job” ethos is actually elitist because it undermines work that is not done out of “passion.” In my view, it also can devolve into being overly self-focused. And it can cloud our vision for the redemptive nature of suffering, even inside of our callings. 

The vast majority of seminars on calling in retirement follow this do-what-you-love paradigm. Not only is this view in tension with the call to “take up [your] cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24), it assumes the time and money to choose among many good options—a choice millions of Americans entering retirement with minimal financial resources don’t have. 

I do believe there can be greater convergence of gifting and service in retirement, but calling first needs to be saved from a narrative about a satisfactory private life. The road to deep freedom in retirement is found not in self-actualization, but in self-surrender. 

More recently in conversations about retirement, “calling” has been used to denote a life-stage. “First calling” is youth and education, “second calling” is career, and “third calling” is retirement. 

There are two issues with this. First, there’s really no biblical support for dividing life neatly into three chapters, each representing a distinctive “calling.” Yet there’s a bigger issue: the entire idea of a “three chapter” life needs challenging. In an age of human longevity, lives, relationships, and work and rest will become far more fluid. 

It can be disorienting to re-evaluate a sense of calling in your 60s, but it’s also very normal. I’ve found through my work at Denver Institute for Faith & Work that it’s the second most common time people ask deeper questions about purpose, job choice, and meaning. 

Author Os Guinness writes eloquently about the life-long nature of discerning your calling. “In many cases a clear sense of calling comes only through a time of searching, including trial and error. And what may be clear to us in our twenties may be far more mysterious in our fifties because God’s complete designs for us are never fully understood, let alone fulfilled, in this life.” Though that may be true, age can give in fact a deepening sense of God’s call. 

An excerpt from An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life by Jeff Haanen (Moody Publishers, May 2019).

Jeff Haanen (B.A., Valparaiso University; M.Div., Denver Seminary) is the Founder and Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, an educational nonprofit that explores issues of faith, work, calling and culture. Jeff is a regular contributor to Christianity Today and has written numerous articles on finance, character, work, and calling. He is a nationally recognized voice on the intersection between faith and work.

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