Till Death Do Us Part: Is Retirement an Option Anymore?

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She heard my surprise as I approached her behind the counter at the locally-owned fast food restaurant. This was the same white-haired woman from my church with the smile that matched her oversized glasses, the lady who handed out bulletins and fussed over the communion cups and smoothed the curtains in the sanctuary after the wind tousled them.

Here she was with the same infectious, enthusiastic spirit, only now she was asking people what they wanted for lunch.

I stumbled through my order, wondering just what to say. She broke the ice, lowering her voice, telling me her retirement funds “needed a little boost.”

I can only imagine what her bones felt like after a long, hard day in that environment.

She’s not alone. Retirees are banging on the doors of employers, looking for supplemental or full-time work.

The short-term financial downturn is now a multi-year economic crisis. The unemployed and underemployed are all around us. And it’s affecting retirement plans.

Take Wendy, for instance, a woman I work with. She is the quiet type that every boss wishes for—steady, quiet, faithful, and compliant.

She had a calendar on her wall, and above that was a countdown of months until she could retire. For five years, she kept track, dreaming of a small house in the foothills, working in her garden, taking her dogs on long walks, and sleeping in on Monday mornings.

But her calendar—and her plans—were interrupted when her son moved back in. He had lost his job. And so had his wife. They brought their two kids. Her other son lost his job and joined the family circus, and suddenly she was the sole breadwinner for 60 years old.

My friend Ron is 58. He lost his construction consulting job three years ago. He wasn’t ready to retire then, but now it’s slipping out of his grasp. He still hasn’t found employment and has drained his IRA, cashed out the equity on his home, and taken on significant debt.

“I might never get to retire,” he said.

The fact is that older people are now staying in the workplace longer, and it’s not because they love work. It often comes down to economics. Uncertainty about the stock market, Social Security, home valuations, and savings rates have added a tremble to those approaching the golden years. Health care adds another wrinkle.

There’s no biblical imperative for retirement, and the ancients likely labored until they were no longer able to function physically. But our modern society has set us up with a certain ideal of working for the same company, retiring in our 60’s, and living the remainder of our days in peace.

There might be a new reality. Am I ready to work until my very final breath?

With some thought over these few months, I have three principles I’m holding to:

  • There’s no guarantee of a retirement, so I cannot afford to be unmotivated.

  • I will work as hard as I can, as long as I can, and do so to God’s glory.

  • I’ll leave the details to God, trusting His provision more than my IRA.

I went back to see Linda at the fast-food place last week. At first, I was disappointed she wasn’t there. But secretly, I hoped she was at home, watering her flowers and taking a nap in the afternoon sun.