Work: Blessing or Curse?
What if retirement isn't just a way to fund a contented life without a paycheck? What if retirement and work aren't mutually exclusive? Would that change how you think about and plan for retirement?
Not Just a Blessing, a Purpose
We see early in the creation account in Genesis that God created man in his own image (Gen. 1:26-28) and immediately gave Adam something to do as the overseer/caretaker of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15). Embedded throughout the creation story we find our purpose as co-creators with God, cooperating with Him in using the resources He furnishes to provide for our needs and help humanity thrive. Work, absent sin, was an undiluted blessing. Even today, work remains a blessing. When I ask clients what they envision retirement looking like, it almost always involves work. Work isn't just something we do, it's part of our very nature. Everyone is created with specific gifts, talents and purpose - there is something each of us are created for and uniquely qualified and called to accomplish. If we believe this, why would we spend decades longing for the years where work isn't a necessary part of life?
The Curse of Toilsome Labor
When we go to work each day, we often focus on the challenges more than the blessings. Let's face it, work can be unpleasant. It's not all sunshine and roses. While work was and is a blessing, God cursed the ground and man's work became riddled with suffering (Gen. 3:17-19). This curse continues to this day (along with the pains of childbearing for women). While work was created to be a blessing, it became both hard and more important since more effort is required to deal with the brokenness of the created order. It's this strife that often drives our desire to retire - to escape from the suffering, challenges, long hours, and office politics that make work feel more like a curse than a blessing. No matter how much wealth we accumulate it's not going to be enough to escape work or the struggles that come along with it. As Solomon notes in Ecclesiastes 2:11, "When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind." If Solomon, who amassed immeasurable wealth, felt this way do we really think we can retire to a life of leisure simply by accumulating a couple million dollars?
Wealth isn't inherently good or bad. Neither is retiring from your career. When I hear that people want to retire to pursue the things they're passionate about, that's fantastic. One question...why wait until you're 65 years old to do it? Frequently, it comes to finances. We feel obligated to save up to sustain our lifestyle once the job fades and we start to pursue our calling. Simon, Andrew, James & John gave up everything - career, wealth, family - to follow Jesus (Matt 4:18-22). It must have seemed crazy to everyone around them. There were no safety nets, no backup plans. Just faith.
As you look at your next paycheck stub and see the 401(k) contribution, I challenge you to look at your motivations for putting money aside. Are you saving so that you can live out your calling someday? It's easy to fall into the trap of letting money drive our decisions, but Jesus warned that we cannot serve both God and money. What if "retirement" is just another day? What's driving your savings - faith or fear?