Is it ‘okay’ to retire?

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What do you have that you did not receive? 1 Corinthians 4: 7 NIV

…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKVJ

Mike and I have been praying and planning about when he should retire.  I left my full-time teaching job in March 2019 when God moved us here to Huntsville.  Mike has continued working full time as a senior systems engineer.

Now, for many reasons, he wants to retire. This is not a decision we are rushing into.  Prudently, we have met with financial advisors. It does appear that Mike can stop having to work for income. What a privileged position that the Lord has granted us!

One quality I appreciate in my husband is that he is not a workaholic.  Western culture and especially America in the 21st century appear to esteem endless work.  Most men we know boast in how long they work each day. Putting in hours at night or over the weekend appears to be a badge of honor.  Mike is counter cultural.  He likes time at home with me to talk, think, read, exercise and pursue other interests.  His identity is not tied up with his productivity at the office. I’m so glad.

If God indeed grants him to retire, he’ll be 65 and 4 months. Assured of the financial viability of this change, I see Mike cautiously allowing himself to enjoy looking forward to the day when he can exercise more choice in how to invest time and energy. Instead of needing to support us through full-time work, we are now talking about ‘energizing joy’ as a way to choose how to invest his God-given talents, gifts and experiences.

But he is still hesitant to take anything for granted. The other night as we started chatting and fixing dinner, Mike mentioned how he didn’t want to be like that prosperous fool in Jesus’ parable. (Luke 12: 13-21) You know the scene Jesus depicted, that of a prosperous man salivating over his vision of tearing down his barns to build a larger storage facility to protect his wealth, his retirement.

I reassured my hard-working husband with this observation. His eagerness to acknowledge all that we have as God’s gifts to enjoy and steward, to be received with thanksgiving, points to a healthy fear of the Lord.

Mike has endured decades of ‘thorns and thistles’ in his work.  He has endured those times by God’s grace and experienced periodic days of satisfaction, but no real joy.  I think the idea that we should ‘find our bliss’ in our work sets up many for disappointment.  Work is for feeding your family, providing a useful service to society and other important reasons.  If you enjoy your work, that is icing on the cake.

Should retiring people feel guilty for enjoying some God-given peace and ‘prosperity’? No!  Read what the Lord teaches his people who look to him, who trust him, who follow him:

Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands…..Deuteronomy 30:9 NIV

God promises that there are times of refreshment and prosperity where thorns and thistles do not get the upper hand.  This is what I believe retirement can be.  I am encouraging my earnest, hard-working, precious husband to look forward with hope as he trusts the Lord with this next phase.  There are times when our Father delights to give us work that yields abundant harvests, satisfies us and meets needs of other people, all for his glory and the spread of the kingdom.

Protection against Prosperity

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The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad! Psalm 126:3

God has come through with an extraordinary mercy to us in answer to much fervent prayer – our own cries for help along with sustained prayers offered up by family and faithful friends. I’ll tell you more in a bit.

I’ve been reading in Scripture examples about the dangers that ‘good’ times can present. King David gives us many examples. His most notorious is his complacency (leading to the Bathsheba incident) after God’s divine help in driving away Israel’s enemies. Were it not for Biblical narratives of his downfall and his own writings in the psalms we would not be warned. Yet despite his astonished and grateful joy in God’s forgiveness, over time, David’s gladness waned. He grew distracted by comfort, helped along by an increasing lack of attentiveness to his Master, the LORD.

Merriam-Webster explains complacency this way: “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Com means ‘with’ and if you recall the verb ‘to placate’ (to please) the idea of being pleased with oneself is obvious.  But self-pleasure can be dangerous, especially if we grow über-SELF-confident.

But what does prosperity in the title of this post have to do with complacency?  We can see that it was God who had made King David prosperous. And in the beginning, David’s gratitude over his ‘prosperity’ or successes was real. But he didn’t nurture that spirit of thankfulness. As life grew easier after years of hardship, his attentiveness to God slackened. He let himself get preoccupied with the gifts.  Not only was David wealthy he enjoyed multiple blessings of regional peace, family, friends. For sure during those painful, difficult years he had followed Moses’ advice to Joshua about how to be ‘prosperous’:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Josh 1:8

But once God was gracious to him, David FORGOT the part about ‘meditate on God’s law day and night.’ A change came over the prosperous David. Enjoying God’s bounty, he let down his guard. 

I don’t want that to happen to us! 

As Mike and I have come to know our Bibles, we understand how to please our Father.  Ultimately it’s because He has changed our hearts that we WANT to obey Him. We also have grown to realize that afflictions are gifts from God that keep us clinging to Him.  They keep us needy and very close. Desperation keeps us ‘meditating on God’s Word night and day’.

Since June 2013, when we left Virginia and moved to the Asheville, NC area, we have been especially needy.   How so? through hardships right and left, one after the other. Like what, Maria?

  • a blatant closed-door, dead-end to Mike’s plan to work from home in NC as an operations research analyst
  • no open doors to other significant work for him during our time in NC
  • perplexing difficulties for me in a new school teaching French – each year in that school was laden with painful experiences. Nor could I couldn’t find another teaching position
  • Mike’s frightening heart crisis that lasted some weeks
  • his slide into depression during our 6 years in North Carolina, alienating some people
  • a surprising decision to leave mountains we loved for Mike to go back into full-time engineering work
  • then after God’s good gift of a job and sale of our house in NC, a recurrence of a physical stress symptom that had dogged Mike for 25+ years but had been absent during the previous 7-8 years. ‘Complacently’ we had assumed it would never come back.

The return of this latter affliction seemed to be the most painful of all the above. It colored Mike’s world and spilled over to me.  He could hardly avoid noticing it, because it affected his body, every day and all the time. I prayed fervently.  We both did. As did friends and family.

What else did we do?  We journaled, we tried functional medicine, Mike met with a Christian counselor.  Friends and family continued to pray and stay connected. Most of all we went deep into God’s Word. As we did, He began to change our thinking to align more with His Word. Whether you believe that He ‘allows’ or ‘sends’ suffering, in God’s hands He wills all things for our good.  We began to ask God to change our desires – that we would desire HIM more than an affliction-free life.

Then, about 4 months ago God seemed to be directing us to have Mike go back on a medication that had ‘stopped working’, one he had gone off of.  He visited his doctor, asking for a higher dose. We prayed on, willing to live with this suffering if it were God’s best for our holiness and ultimate joy.

It took a full 10 weeks for any relief to be evident.  His body started slowly to respond, in fits and starts.  Mike kept meeting with his Christian counselor.  We continued to pray, to journal, to study God’s Word. 

It is now almost the end of May 2020 and we rejoice. Mike DOES have relief. The symptoms have subsided. His body feels normal. He is visibly relaxed and cheery.  I can tell he is enjoying life in a new way. 

I check in with him each evening as we write down our God-directed thank-you’s in our prayer journal.  Then we pray for one another mentioning the next day’s needs. We don’t hesitate to ask Him for another day of relief for Mike.  Just as we ask Him to grant me a good night sleep. We take NEITHER gift for granted. We also know that God has the right to withhold both. They are not our due.

Hence my meditating on the ‘danger’ that comes with answered prayer, when the pressure lets up.  Not that God is dangerous, but that a cavalier attitude on my part can easily endanger my heart. I want to lay in place good habits of thinking. Yes, our Father IS good and He delights to give us rest and periods of joy-filled relaxation.  Mike and I are grateful for these broad or open spaces where ‘enemies have been driven back, bodies have healed, children have been born, and the harvest is plentiful.’ 

Psalm 18:9 He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.

So how DO I guard against complacency?  I have landed on two ways: 

  • Gratitude and
  • Humility

Gratitude looks like this for me:

  • recognizing and chattering my thanks to my Father throughout the day for all the gifts I can see 
  • mentioning His kind provision of what I might not even think to ask for, like safety or how loving my friends are

Humility looks like this for me:

  • Recognizing that I am a contingent being, that I cannot do ANY thing on my own.
  • Acknowledging daily that God, the Creator and Sustainer, gives me life moment by moment. Unless He wills that I KEEP LIVING, I am but dust molecules
  • Talking out loud to Him about what I need Him to provide NEXT in order to do the task at hand

This, then, is how I am trying to ‘walk humbly with my Lord’.

Friends and family, we want YOU to know how glad we are for the great things He has done.  Thank you for your prayers and years of encouragement throughout these past years. This new broad and fertile time is refreshing us.  We are savoring it.  It feels sweet.  We don’t deserve it, and we are grateful.  May we continue to keep our eyes on Him!

 

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