Retirement is Complicated

With so many people reporting their number one priority in retirement as “doing nothing," why are the retirement years so complicated? Those who expand “nothing” to include a multitude of leisure activities face the same amount of complexity. Why should doing nothing be so hard? It seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?


Let’s examine some of the factors that create the complexity.


First, retirement, as we know it in 21st century USA, is different from any end of life realities since Methuselah. The issues surrounding retirement are framed by the reality of longevity. If we were not living so long, it would be less complicated. While this observation is almost an obvious conclusion, we don’t think about or operate with this new understanding.


We are each guided by our own experience. Admittedly, I’m older than most, but I clearly remember growing up and realizing that people did something called “retirement” when they were about 65, and then they died before they were 70. There wasn’t much else to be concerned about, or even to plan for. Even if you were not working, you died anyway.


Now living to 85 or even 100 years is normal. Not only has life extended on the back end, but it’s also starting earlier. While many who work in Christian ministry extend their careers into the late 60s or early 70s, the average Christian sitting in the pew is retiring before 65. For the rest of the workforce, I recently read that 57 was the average age for what they called, “The 1st retirement." We are talking a span of 30 years – and that’s a long time! Any 30-year period is filled with new challenges and opportunities including significant change.


Retirement starts with the questions of “What should I do? When should I do it? And, where should I do it?” All questions that historically were part of a job search or career decision earlier in life, not ones confronting us in our 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s.


There are multiple reasons these retirement life stages are more complicated. One is because most families are dual income, dual career, and often dual life priorities. Longevity allows for this to happen, while economics may demand it. The average financial planner or even marriage therapist is not equipped to help navigate these new waters or help answer the questions associated with them.


The financial planner can help with questions such as, “How much will I need?” and other financial inquiries but then they are left with personal opinion and anecdotal solutions. The marital counselor will address relationship issues but is at sea with the financial matters. All the decisions to be made about lifestyle or leisure and nothingness are new ground for them too.


When you reflect on the transition from full time paid work or ministry to retirement it seems as if everything should be easier. Wrong—it’s not! There is more life supporting and life-changing decisions to be made entering into and navigating through retirement than there ever were since you entered the workforce and married life 40-50 years prior.


The categories of decisions are rather astounding. Here is a partial list to consider:

1.    Where will we live?

2.    What kind of home do we need now?

3.    How will we interact with our family?

4.    How will we manage multiple streams of income rather than just a paycheck?

5.    How will we manage the monies we have?

6.    What about Social Security? First understanding and then deciding how to proceed.

7.    What about medical coverage and issues?

8.    Whether to work or not? When and where?

9.    Creating new friends and social activities.

10.    And then there is time…..what to do with it?

11.    Creating a new relationship with your spouse.

12.    What to do together, and what to do separately?

13.    Determining what God’s call on your life is now? Is there one? What to do?

14.    What about your spiritual journey?

15.    What about health, exercise, and diet?

16.    If travel is on your bucket list, where are you going?

17.    What is your new lifestyle going to be?

18.    Most likely one or more of your four parents are alive. How will their care be handled?

19.    Issues with siblings.

20.    Issues with estranged children.

21.    Out of control grandchildren.


And the list goes on. Health, money, lifestyle, and activity priorities are all issues on the table. And for most, there are two or more of you to work them out. Nothing easy about it. The interpersonal skills needed are often new ones or ones that need enhancing and relationships are tough.


Not only are these new or newly recognized issues, but there is just the simple reality of more uncommitted time and what to do with it. After all, time and flexibility are the most obvious new elements being mixed into the menu of life.


Finally, you come face to face with all the activity packing each day, and ask, “So where is the meaning?” All these decisions don’t have a context unless you have already made a couple of decisions. These decisions include discovering how you are going to fit into God’s kingdom building plan during what will be your last 30 years. Finding meaning and purpose and answering the question of how you will be faithful for your whole lifetime go from “never thought about it" to a new discovery and priority deciding process.


Preparing for the complications of later life is one way to minimize the complexity. Becoming friends again with your spouse is a great place to start. Starting a prayer time focused on God’s plan for your future is another. Beginning early conversations about where you will live, at least where you will live during the first 10 years of retirement helps a lot. At least you can get the surprise perspectives and the previously unspoken ideas from your spouse out on the table. And obviously, having sufficient financial resources allowing flexibility and choice are important. Taking steps to grow your spiritual relationship with God and your emotional maturity to handle tough situations are equally as important as the financial ones. The earlier you start, the better it will be.


Hopefully, some of these perspectives will serve as a catalyst helping you come to grips with this time called retirement. There is a lot of it. It is expensive. It is complicated. However, even with all its complexity, it can be the best years of your life if you navigate them with God’s wisdom, accept His Grace and start the preparation early.


Come along on our journey. Doing it together and with God’s guidance can smooth out the rough spots. Retirement is complicated. I’d rather face it with wisdom and knowledge than not knowing, leading to one painful surprise after another.



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