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Retirement, God's plan, and the people he puts in our lives

Retirement, God's plan, and the people he puts in our lives

I stepped down from the CEO role at Matthias Media nearly two years ago. I also stepped away from salaried employment at that point—I’ve not moved on to any other job, nor do I plan to.

I suppose that sounds like retirement. It must do, because friends keep asking me “How is retirement going?” To which I quickly respond: “I haven’t retired—I’m still busy with work. I’m just not getting paid for it anymore.”

Apparently I really don’t want people to think I’ve retired, even though technically there is a strong argument for saying I have. And I think I know why I don’t want them thinking that.

As a general rule, my Christian friends who have actually retired (but who are still fit and healthy) do two main things:
  1. they very actively pursue their leisure activities (hobbies, pleasures and travel)
  2. they devote significant parts of their week to helping their kids by caring for their grandchildren.
Most do both. Some sacrifice a bit of (1) for (2), others sacrifice a bit of (2) for (1). I’m not really doing either, so that’s perhaps why I don’t feel like I belong in the retired category.

All of those friends still describe their lives as very busy. Often they say they are busier now than when they were working. (That may be a bit of an exaggeration on their part, and is perhaps a symptom of our Western obsession with busyness and with measuring our value and sense of self-worth by what we do.)

However, I have a deep suspicion that, just like much of their pre-retirement life, the question of what their life should be busy with (from their Lord’s point of view) has not had a lot of prayerful thought.

Having just published a book on the problem of busyness and how we use our time, hearing what those retiree friends say makes me want to shoot off an email to the marketing team to remind them that the relevance of that book is not confined to parents of young children who are struggling with the whole work/family life balance thing. It’s an issue that bedevils (if I can use that loaded word) people of all ages and stages. Perhaps that’s the nature of life for all of us? Activity, like a gas, quickly expands to fill the available space. Before we know it, we’re busy and we’ve barely paused to give any consideration to gospel priorities and all the people God puts in our lives to serve.

Don’t get me wrong, older people (of which I am not yet one!) should be able to step away from some of the stresses of work life and have room for a bit more leisure as their energy levels start to decline. Even more, grandparents (of which I am now one!) having time to spend with their grandchildren is not only a wonderful privilege and gospel opportunity, but a tremendous delight.

However, Christians—to whom God’s overarching plans and purposes in and for our world have been revealed—are blessed with a special insight when it comes to deciding how best to spend our time. If only we would make the effort to reflect on that insight before we default to making decisions and choices that look remarkably similar to our non-Christian friends—friends who lack that revelation and insight.

So if you’re contemplating retirement, or are now retired but willing to change course a little (or a lot), can I urge you to think seriously about how to live wisely as a Christian in this next phase of life? Because not “working together with him” risks receiving “the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor 6:1). Let’s not do that.

Ian Carmichael

Ian has been with Matthias Media from its beginning (1988). In late 2020 he stepped down from the CEO role, and now works as an honourary consultant and editor for Matthias Media and Vinegrowers. Ian and his wife, Stephanie, have two adult children, two (gorgeous) grandchildren, and are part of Chatswood Presbyterian church in Sydney. Ian is one of the Vinegrowers team providing free consultations for church leaders who want to more effectively grow the disciple-making culture in their church.