My father did not live to reach the biblical “three score years and ten” (Psalms 90:10). When my dad died he was only 63 and I was a kid of just 12. I’m thinking more about my dad lately because I’ve now passed the age my father was when he died. I am retired now and find myself in a life transition I did not fully anticipate. As I contemplate what might or might not be in my future, it seems only natural to think about the past and loved ones, including my parents, who are now gone. But I think also of my family today whom I love including my dear wife of 48 years and our adult children and their families. And I can’t help but also ponder what lies ahead at this new stage of life.
In Ecclesiastes 2:16 I find that no matter how well we may have conducted our life, we will still surely die. I’ve read this verse and other related scriptures over the years but I’m now paying more attention. I’m beginning to think about the harsh reality that the mortality rate really is 100 percent.
So with some misgivings I’m trying not to worry about what lies ahead and I really am focused upon a hopeful future that was not widely available to my dad and to my parents’ generation. Just 100 years ago, life expectancy in the United States was not quite 50 years. In 1935 when President Franklin D Roosevelt introduced Social Security, few Americans lived long enough to enjoy a life after work. Like my dad, FDR was only 63 when he died in 1945. In 1955, the year my father died, the average American was lucky to reach the biblical 70 years. The life expectancy in America today is somewhere in the 80’s, with women usually living a few years longer than men.
Medical advances, nearly universal vaccinations, improvements in sanitation and the effort of individuals to maintain a healthier lifestyle have done much to extend the years Americans and others have to live. It was big news when President Obama finally kicked his smoking habit and then Speaker of the House John Boehner is often asked by media and even his constituents to defend his continued smoking.
We have reached a point where retirement is no longer a brief period of leisure time before death. Maybe we should retire the word retirement. It doesn’t fit well with the way many Americans now live. Bill and Hillary Clinton and George and Laura Bush are past the traditional retirement milestone age of 65 and like many Americans they remain quite active with work and a variety of social, church and community involvement.
Every day this year in the United States 10,000 “baby boomers “, born between 1946 and 1964, will reach age 65. The boomers will redefine the direction we should take with the added years we will likely have for post career activities that was not an available option during earlier generations. I’ve been fortunate to work for several so-called post retirement years as a public-school superintendent search consultant, an international school’s accreditation consultant and a faith-based conference speaker. I continue to enjoy these activities because I meet new people and stay in touch with colleagues and I believe my work is useful.
What it means to be old is changing. Retirement is becoming more a process than an event. Nowhere in scripture can we find support for retirement from all work and volunteer related activity. As we live longer and as long as we are able and God’s gives us the strength, we can continue to look for ways to make a positive contribution to the lives of those around us.
I now know God provides me with only this one day. We read in the Psalm 118:24 “This is the day the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it.” Patsy was a coworker friend of mine whose 35-year-old daughter was dying of cancer. When I visited her daughter in the hospital, she told me about this verse in Psalm 118 and asked what lesson I might learn from it. I answered that God may be teaching us to bring a positive spirit to each day. She agreed but said the central message for her was that God promises us only today and because He extends no promise that we will even be alive tomorrow, we should live this day without regret, being kind to others, seeking God’s will for this day while mindful that there is no promise of tomorrow.
If I make plans to meet with you tomorrow, in my mind I should realize that we will meet, if God is willing. Sometimes I will actually say to someone, “I’ll see you later, God willing.” I don’t need to worry about the time I have left. Because of my faith in Christ’s atonement , I have confidence from scripture including 2 Corinthians 5:8 that when I die, when I leave my physical body, I will go to be in the presence of the Lord.
While there are no promises, if the actuary tables are correct, it is reasonable for me to expect and to plan for several more years. I know I may be sidelined sooner than what I might expect but I also may have overtime and live longer than I thought. So whatever time is remaining I know I willlikely be here for a while and should therefore conjure up a good attitude and prepare a game plan for the rest of the way and remain sensitive and open to what God may have in store for me. In poet Robert Browning’s opening stanza of “Rabbi Ben Ezra” we seem summoned to get ready for the good future God has prepared for us.
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be.
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith, ” A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God; see all,
Nor be afraid.”
I want to cherish each day as a valuable gift from God. I therefore have a stewardship responsibility to carefully consider what is good use of the time I have available. In Ephesians 5:16 we are encouraged to “redeem the time.” As people age wealth and material things sometimes seem less important and personal relationships take on more importance. I want to become less concerned with things to do and more open and excited about interacting with and having fellowship with the people in my life.
Memories are good but dreams are better. Someone said that the past is OK to visit but you don’t want to live there. While I have experienced a lot in the many decades I’ve lived so far, there is likely still more in front of me that I need to pay attention to and contribute to because the outcome of my life has not yet been decided. I need to look forward with thanksgiving and seek God’s will for my life every day. I think I do this but some days I know I do it better than others. More often than not I should be able to identify with the Apostle Paul when he writes in Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the mark for the high calling of God”. So my plan is to continue to be engaged with friends and family, church and volunteer and part time work activities.
I may be trying to hold off boredom and the feelings of no longer being relevant, but I believe I still have something to contribute to the lives of those around me. As the years pass, I notice too that those whom I value become fewer in number because of life circumstances. Therefore, I need to reach out and create new acquaintances and friendships at church and in my community and at work while I’m still working. If I don’t, I will become increasingly isolated. If part of life is saying goodbye to people who die or retire or move on for some reason, then I must be open to inviting new people into my personal, professional and volunteer worlds.
I look forward with anticipation to whatever lies ahead. I remember fondly many life memories but I want to focus most of my attention now upon the future and the dreams and new personal and spiritual goals that lie ahead. Why not? After all I’m fortunate to possibly have several more years that God may give to me that I’ll be responsible for and I’ll be thankful for. And my prayer is that whenever my last day arrives, I will be able in good conscience to say as Paul recorded in 2Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I think my dad would agree.