Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: retirement

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Sixty years ago that question was often asked of me and my friends during our high school years. The suggestion was being planted in us that we needed to become something important – to be Somebody.

Our parents had lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s and wanted a better life for their children. They constantly encouraged us to “get an education, so you won’t have to work as hard as we did.”

Thus was planted the subliminal suggestion that work was not really a good thing. And the way to avoid it was to spend the requisite number of years in an institute of higher education in order to obtain a certificate designating one as someone who was above such a menial status.

It turned out that work was pretty much a necessity, a necessary evil one might say. So people my age did what they had to do and dreamed of that magical day of retirement when they wouldn’t have to work anymore and could spend time with their friends doing all the things they had dreamed of doing.

Reality stuck it’s ugly nose in here too. It turned out that our friends were the people we worked with. When we retired we had nothing in common with them anymore. Many retired men having, by virtue of being men, the conviction that they could fix most anything began tracking their wives around the house and advising them how they could do their work more efficiently. Finally, the wives reached the breaking point and  said, “Why don’t you go out and get a job?” Many men did and found more satisfaction in the work they did after retirement than they had in their careers.

Maybe work isn’t such a bad thing after all. Surveys say that employers don’t care much for fancy pieces of paper offered as proof of sitting through so and so many hours of tenured duty in a classroom. They are looking for people who want to serve. People who want to learn the specific skills needed by their employer to serve their customers. People who find satisfaction in contributing to the success of a team.

The robots are coming, you say? I suppose, but so far more jobs have been lost to Asia than to robots. A renewed appreciation for good workmanship would go hand in hand with a renewed sense of dignity in work.

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Old age is not a disease

I had a birthday a couple of years ago. They come every year, for me as for most people, but this was the one that marked me definitively as being an old man. I told my family and friends that I did not want anyone telling me that I was 70 years young. I was 70 years old and I had the memories to prove it. Now I am even older.

It makes no sense to me either when people tell me “You’re only as old as you feel.” If that be true, there was a point this evening when I was 95. A nap fixed that. That is a little anti-aging trick known to most of us old people.

Why do we insist on treating old age as a disease? There must be just as much money spent on treating and masking the symptoms of old age as is spent on treating some major diseases. There was a time when the hoary head and the weather beaten face were badges of honour, not something fearful that needed to be disguised so as not to frighten the younger generation.

Ah but, you may say, old age is a terminal condition. To which I will reply that simply being alive is a guarantee that you will die. We need to come to terms with that reality before we can truly live life to the fullest.

Right there is the problem with our attitude towards old age. We live our working lives with the goal always before us that one day we will come to the end of this drudgery and be free to truly enjoy life. When we do retire, we find ourselves face to face with the awful truth that we have been deliberately avoiding all those years – retirement means that we are now useless.

True enjoyment comes from doing things that are useful. If our retirement dream was based on the cessation of all useful work so that we can take our leisure, the reality will be a crushing disappointment. Most retirees don’t like to talk about it, but that feeling of uselessness eats away at them. Suicide is as big a problem among retirees as it is among youth.

The problems faced by older people are just one symptom of the missing factor in the lives of most people in our era — we have forgotten that service to others is what gives meaning to life. We consider our working lives to be drudgery because we have forgotten that the real purpose of our job, any job, is to serve others. The real purpose of our lives away from work is to serve others — families, neighbours, our church community, anyone who is in some way in need.

Service to others — one never grows too old, too feeble or too handicapped for that. There is something that we can do at every stage of life. Facing life with this in mind will lift our spirits, clear our minds and give us a reason for getting up in the morning.

Why retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

The first mandatory retirement with a government pension was introduced in 1889 by Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany.  At first, the retirement age was set at 70, but was reduced to 65 in 1916.

One story is that Bismarck wanted to modernize the army, but was held back by a bunch of old generals in their 80’s.  The way out was to grant them an honourable retirement complete with a government pension as a reward for their many years of service, then replace them with younger, more progressive-minded generals.  In order to be fair, the pension had to be granted to all German citizens 70 and older.  Never mind that the Iron Chancellor himself was 74 at the time and no one was going to tell him when to retire.

There may be some truth to the story of the aged generals, but it is important to note that in 1889 the average life expectancy at birth was less than 40 years in Germany.  Anyone who survived to 70 probably had some major health issues.  The pension was meant to help cover the costs of dealing with those health and disability issues, not as a gift to use in enjoying years of leisure in retirement.

Nowadays, men have the rosy, idealized, picture of working hard until they are 65 and then enjoying many happy years of leisure in retirement.  For many of these men, their social circle is largely made up of the people they worked with, and after retirement they no longer have much in common with their former friends.  So they wind up following their wives around the house and telling them how they could do a better job of their housework.

I don’t think women have quite the same problem when they retire, they may be better at building social networks that are not necessarily related to work.  Being a man myself, I feel more sure of my ground in talking about the tendencies of those of my own gender.

One thing that can make a huge difference is having strong ties to a warm and active Christian community.  If this is our most important social circle, it will remain intact after we retire.  And yes, there is a social aspect to a Christian congregation, or else it isn’t a real Christian congregation.

But why does one need to retire at all?  The goal of our life, at work, at home, in our community, in our church, should be to serve God and to serve others.  If we don’t need the pay cheque anymore, that is wonderful, but it does not diminish our need to serve God and to serve others.  The knowledge and abilities gained while working for a living may find a new application in the years following retirement, in part-time work and in volunteer work.  Those who look forward to that rosy picture of a life of leisure after retirement generally find it to be a mirage.

For the past four years, I have been in charge of taking a group from our congregation once every two months to hold a Sunday morning service in the chapel at one of Saskatoon’s hospitals.  There is a volunteer who sets up the microphone for the service and then plays the organ and sings some of the old, familiar hymns until the patients are in and it is time to start the service.  Her husband helps bring patients down from the wards.  Marjorie is 84, George is 85.

Marjorie has been battling leukemia for several years, undergoing chemotherapy treatments, but she still came every Sunday and was always cheerful, warm-hearted and welcoming to everyone.  Last Sunday she told me that her last blood test was the best in the last seven years.  That is wonderful news and I am happy for her.  She is an inspiration to me in her determination to serve as long as God gives her strength.  I don’t know if determination is the right word, it is her joy to serve.

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