The idea of people being ‘too old to work’ appeared around the 18th Century. Prior to that, too few people lived to be ‘too old to work’. It was the German Emperor, William I who, at the bidding of Bismarck in 1881, introduced the proposal for retirement in a letter to the Reichstag: “…those who are disabled from work by age and invalidity have a well-grounded claim to care from the state (Wikipedia). The retirement age was for people over 65 years old. Retirement and retirement age became accepted during the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Fast forward to the present day when people are retired at their 50s and 60s. These people are still relatively healthy and productive. They usually live for another 20-30 years. Some go into second careers. What happened to the rest? The question is that what do they do during these 20-30 years? It is a long time to sit and wait to die but that is essentially what they are doing. What does the Bible teaches about retirement and is there a magic age for retirement?
Numbers 8:23-26 seems to mention this for the Levites.
23 The Lord said to Moses, 24 “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”
The working-age for Levites was from 25-50 years old. The Levites worked hard because they have to break down and put up the Tabernacle whenever the main camp moved. This will take strong and hardy men to perform the tasks. One commentary noted: “After a Levite had reached the mandatory retirement age of fifty, he was still free to assist his younger coworkers as long as he was able to do so (perhaps at the great festivals), but he no longer was to do the hard and difficult work he had done in his prime.” The general meaning seems to be that the Levite can continue to offer assistance beyond the age of fifty, but that he has no regular commitment, probably on a rota. This is legislated for Levites but none of us is Levites.
However, the idea of retirement age and post-retirement service is good. When we are working at a job, we work to the terms of our contract which included stated working hours (unless you are flexi-time), the number of days of leave, and horrors, assessment by KPIs. These are necessary for some seasons of our life when we are building a career, marriage, growing a family, and developing a portfolio. However, there will be a time when we need to move beyond that, and that is when the idea of retirement become useful.
Retirement is the milestone where we move from a structured-life season to a more flexible semi-structured season of life. This season is when our careers have been established, our children have left home, our mortgages paid up (hopefully), and we are wearied by the routines of the structured life. This retirement, I have in mind, is not dictated by chronological age but by kairos time. Kairos time is God calling us to move from one season of life into the next season. This new post-retirement period is when we have more time and resources to pursue a new avenue of service for God. It may be another call which is empowered now by our passion, our network and resources, and our lived-experiences. These are powerful combinations for our post-retirement vocation.
As we plan for our retirement from our jobs, we also need to plan for our post-retirement service. In order to plan for a smooth transition from our pre- and post-retirement seasons, we must prepare well in advance. The following steps will be helpful:
- Understand the process. It will not be easy to move from a structured working lifestyle to a semi-structured post-retirement life.
- Recognize the hand of God in your life and discern to know when it is the kairos
- Take time to step back and access your current situation. Are you ready to make the transition?
- Keep track of what is happening. Is it the kairos moment? Are you feeling increasingly restless with your structured life (not due to stress or burn-out)? Do you discern that you have achieved all that you want to achieve and feel it is time to move on?
- Trust in God. These are the seasons of our lives. There is a time and place for everything.
Retirement and the retirement age is a dated concept in our contemporary society. As Christians, we should look at these as a gift of years from God. The years we have are a gift of the seasons of life which he was given us the privilege to experience. Let our retirement age not a fixed age but a milestone in our journey with God.