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You may have heard that retirement can kill you. Men and women die of boredom, for lack of intellectual challenge, or from the deafening silence that can accompany a spouse’s death. Depressed saving accounts may represent another motivation to stay gainfully employed. Even if times were better, you might simply prefer staying active in your career, maintaining a position of influence that you’ve worked hard to reach.
It is lawful to seek fruitfulness with one’s skills and talents. Yet there are better reasons than financial stability and longevity for remaining engaged with the world. There is the unique opportunity to reap eternal dividends by investing in younger Christians. “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Prov. 16:31). Years lived to the glory of God produce practical, biblical wisdom and unshakable confidence that God’s nearness is better than a large house and a picket fence, that the awaiting joys of heaven are better than any earthly promotion, and that drawing closer to God amidst painful trials is both tougher and more joy-filled than caving in to spiritual complacency.
Perhaps you approach your latter years with a measure of regret over grievous sins. God can restore the years eaten by the locusts (Joel 2:25). He can use you to warn others that the pleasures of sin are deceitful — that there is nothing more pleasant than a God-mastered life, from childhood to God-appointed death. Don’t believe the lie that past failures guarantee future fruitlessness. Join with those who petition the Lord, “do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come” (Ps. 71:18).
Perhaps your children are out of the home or you’re at a place financially where you can afford to work less. As one a generation behind you, looking to your example and guidance, I entreat you: Give yourself structure so that hours aren’t frittered away in passive consumption of television. Fight the cynicism that often accompanies the loss of physical or mental acuity. Make war with the temptation to spend time entirely in a familiar, comfortable circle of same-aged peers. In considering those who come behind you, start with your adult children (or grandchildren) and the younger adults in your church. Invite couples and families over for meals (and yes, they should be inviting you, but often are overwhelmed with transitions or small children). Get to know of their struggles, particularly newly married couples transitioning from their single years into marriage and then child-raising. These are often trying times fraught with unexpected challenges. Many Christians entering marriages today lack role models for parenting, for adjusting to motherhood, or for balancing a new career with family and church. Even those who are blessed to have Christian parents can learn precious lessons from other older Christians; Timothy had a godly lineage, but he needed a Paul (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). Your relationships will invariably lend you moral authority if you are intentionally observant and considerate. As they do, offer specific forms of exhortation. Balance advising with simply relating; avoid the twin dangers of relational detachment and micromanagement. Most young adult Christians long for older godly mentors with whom they can enjoy transparent, authentic friendship, so that it is neither unnatural nor embarrassing to call upon them in a time of deep need.
Not having a Christian father, I remember with fondness the summer just before I was married. I lived in Nevada with an almost-retired couple in their early 60s. They had left behind their entire family in Minnesota — grown children, grandchildren, and twenty-plus years of memories. Spending their sunset years in Nevada due to a work transfer, they invested countless hours in younger Christians at their church and made crucial investments in my life as I considered marriage and my own calling.
Maybe you’re thinking this makes sense for pastors — after all, this stuff is in their job description. But you don’t have to be a gifted communicator to care deeply for those around you. Pray by name for the younger generations of Christians in your church, and let them know you are doing so. Authentic love is hard to hide, no matter how poorly you think you communicate.
With regard to your adult children, let your legacy be that of a godly, loving example. But avoid the temptation to display that love in the form of lavish financial assistance, which can either usurp God-assigned responsibility or create unhealthy lifestyle temptations. Maybe your twenty-four year old son has finished college and is comfortable living at home and working odd jobs. Part of Christian love is calling him to embrace manhood, steadily pursuing his gifts into promising employment so that he can eventually support a wife and children. Likewise, be aware that leaving a large inheritance can tempt your children to a worldly, unearned expansion of lifestyle that chokes Christian character and diminishes trust in God.
The psalmist teaches us that numbering our days is part of gaining a heart of wisdom (Ps. 90:12). You know this truth more deeply than most twenty- and thirty-somethings. We have much to gain from your influence. So whether you remain retired from your career or not, please don’t retire from the next generation: we need you.