Talking About: Aging and Retirement

Here is the thoughts going into another flyer for our Neighbour 2 Neighbour initiative at our church. J.I. Packer’s short book ‘Growing Old With Joy’ has been a major influence in putting this together, and can highly recommend it for some light reading to help understand this very important issue.

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WHAT CULTURE SAYS!

In Australia we have an increasing aged population. This means that one size no longer fits all. J.I. Packer makes reference to “younger olds, medium olds and eldest olds”. All three of these age groups encounter similar yet different advantages and challenges.

Younger olds (65-75) are people who are about to, or have just retired from the workforce. Retirement is almost always bitter-sweet. On the one hand, many Australians idolise retirement as the period after work where they can pursue lifelong dreams without the constraints of work and children. It can be a time where life priorities change and couples can focus on things that are important in their eyes. It can be a time of travel and exploration and reconnecting with age old friends.

On the other hand, retirement can be scary time for those who might feel unprepared. In most cases income substantially decreases and expenses often increase. Daily routine changes, often with much more time than people anticipate and when coupled with the death of family and loved one’s days can seem prolonged and bleak. When people leave work and transition into retirement often their social connections change and they are at risk of losing touch with key people they’ve known for many years.

With the rapid development of technology and global knowledge it’s not long after one leaves the workforce before their expertise is outdated and no longer valid. This is especially difficult in a culture where people find their identity in work feeling useless. Younger generations might be tempted to think that ‘old people’ have nothing of value to contribute because all their knowledge is outdated.

Medium olds (75-85) are facing a new set of challenges such as fragility of health, increased financial burden and the sickness and death of loved ones. Often it’s in this period that people make their final move into a retirement village or aged care facility. In addition to personal health concerns, it’s in this period that children are often in their 50’s and grand-children and great grandchildren open up a whole new world of positive and negative experiences.

Eldest olds (85+) are those who generally begin to heavily rely on family and care facilities for everyday tasks. Aged care homes are perceived to be a place for ‘old people’ who are unable to care for themselves. Sickness and death become a prevalent part of daily life, often with friends and remaining family suffering all kinds of illnesses. People experience a loss of control, both over their bodies but also their minds. Fear, anxiety and depression can be linked with people venturing into their 90’s. Finally, loneliness is a key factor at this stage of life. People who are facing death can be tempted to doubt their assurance of salvation, this can be true even for devout members of the church.

From our wider community we often hear people talking about aging as a problem that needs to be fixed. In western cultures we are seeing an aging population where the median age is increasing, and with it the ‘burden’ on government resources and funding. With people living longer there is much longer between retirement and death than in previous generations.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS!

The bible empathises with those who are aging. For example, Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 is a picture of loss, weakness and apathy leading to death.

But it’s not the whole story in the bible, nor is it the complete story for us.

With age, (and grace) comes wisdom, that is, an enlarged capacity for discerning, choosing and encouraging.

In Proverbs 1-7 an elderly father teaches realistic moral and spiritual wisdom to his adult, but immature, son. This concept of passing onto the next generation wisdom becomes a key component of humanity, and is very much contraindicated in today’s society.

Psalm 71 reflects a journey with God from youth to elderly maturity. It reveals a fierce commitment to God despite an aging body. God becomes the central figure in one’s life, ideally from birth to death. At every point of human existence, we should be aiming to follow, love and serve Jesus as our King.

Psalm 92 suggests that a righteous person will still be effective even in old age. And this is essential when it comes to understanding our purpose as God’s children. Our ability to be useful and effective is not tied to our earthly bodies but rather bound up in our existence ‘in Christ’.

WHAT WE CAN SAY!

We can certainly join with the Scriptures in showing love and empathy for those who are journeying through a period of aging and retirement. Unlike the cultural view of aging and retirement, the two extremes of pleasure seeking and suffering aren’t necessarily the only experiences Christians have to look forward to.

For those who love Jesus and intend to live out their days following him there is a third path to navigate. We can surround ourselves in Christian community, experiencing the love, and comfort of God first hand through his people.

There is a great hope for dignity and value for those who grow old in the Lord’s covenant community. A chance to pass on knowledge to younger generations. An opportunity to continue to invest time, energy and money into things of eternal value. The opportunity to continue to learn and grow in Christian maturity and discover new meaning and value in life.

When people meet Jesus their outlook on life inevitably changes, and death no longer has a debilitating sting. The hope of life after death is not only a comfort in tough times, but also a reality that inspires to persevere until the end.

Just like a marathon runner, who keeps a little in reserve for the final sprint, so too should those that are retired and aging view their final years as the final push toward the finish line. The race isn’t over, in fact, a mature Christian outlook on life might see the final lap as the fastest lap where the runner exerts the last of their energy to claim their prize.