Retirement and Our Other Vocations
My deciding to retire was much like how I found my other vocations—a combination of opportunity, needs, and conviction that God was orchestrating it all.
A transition of leadership where I worked made for a good time to stand aside for new blood. The finances came together. After forty-nine years, our IRAs had grown to the point that we could live off the interest, at least in rural Oklahoma. The miracle of compound interest reminded me of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, whose jug of oil and jar of flour kept providing and never ran out.
Also, our families back in Oklahoma needed us. We became convinced that God was in this, that He was calling us.
Retirement underscores two important facets of the doctrine of vocation: the purpose of every vocation is loving and serving our neighbors. And the way we make our living is only one of our vocations and not even the most important one.
The great theologian of vocation, Martin Luther, taught that we have vocations in each of the three estates that God established for human life: the family, the church, and the state. Economic callings are classified with the family, how it makes its living, and the state, how the division of labor contributes to the common good. But even a person who is not working for pay—whether because of unemployment, inherited wealth, or retirement—has vocations in the family (as husband or wife, father, mother, son, daughter, and so on), the church (as a Christian having been called by the gospel), and the state (as citizens of the community and nation).
Retiring from the workplace is allowing me to pursue my other vocations and to love and serve my other neighbors in ways that I had neglected. My family vocations as husband, son, father, and grandfather are now central. I am more involved with our local congregation—where our son-in-law is our pastor—than I was before. I feel my citizenship more, our small town having a greater sense of community than the big cities and suburbs where we used to live.
I am still a “professor,” though of the “emeritus” variety. I am still writing. I am still teaching, with more time for speaking engagements, including multiple trips to Scandinavia, helping to bring back Christianity to those secularized lands.
I realize that our situation is better than that of many retirees. It might not last. A stock market collapse could make our IRAs worth as little as the shards of the widow’s jug of oil and jar of flour if they fell off the shelf. And at some point, our bodies will start falling apart. Trials and suffering are ahead, but those are part of our vocation too. Dr. R.C. Sproul has observed that the final calling is death. Retirement is a time to prepare for that, bringing us into our ultimate vocation, to be with God forever in an eternal Sabbath.