Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thoughts on Retirement - (Part 2 of 2)

TITLE: Thoughts on Retirement - (Part 2 of 2)
SCRIPTURE: Joshua 24:1-2
Date: 13 Dec 2011
Written by: Conrade Yap

"Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel and for their heads and their judges and their officers; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'From ancient times your fathers lived beyond the River, namely, Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, and they served other gods.'" (Joshua 24:1-2) 
Last week in Sabbath Walk, I remind readers not to equate retirement with financial definitions. Instead, it is an attitude that we bring to the world. We will soon pass away. The world will also pass away. The Will of God and the Word of God will remain forever. This week, we continue this reflection on retirement, with a focus on passing our spiritual baton of God's work for us. The best way to pass this baton is to live exemplary lives firstly, continually, and finally.

A) Stories in Progress

All of life is basically telling a story. All of our lives is basically the living out of our story. How well we live, is dependent on how much we lean on the Author of our stories. God is in control. If birth is the beginning of our story, death marks the end. Fully aware that his time is almost up, Joshua continues to tell the story of Israel, and how God has been faithful despite Israel lack of faithfulness. In Joshua 1, we see how even as the life of Moses ends, the story of God's redemption of Israel continues through the passing of leadership to Joshua. The times may change. People's focus may change. Even the place of dwelling of the people may change. What makes the story significant is that as far as God's love for His people is concerned, the story remains the same.

As we see the passing of the spiritual baton to Joshua, we read of Joshua's amazing declaration toward the end of the book of Joshua:

". . . as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15b)

B) When We Forget Our Stories

The trouble with many of us is that we have forgotten our own stories. When this happens, two possible distractions come in: Focus on Money, and a Loss of Purpose.

From my interactions with elderly people in my years of ministry, these two reasons are common. Firstly, MONEY. Far too many people, (including myself) have equated retirement with money. The government through the Old Age Security or Pension schemes use money. Insurance companies talk financial terms. Many corporations offer a retirement benefit that almost always have something to do with monetary units. Such overwhelming focus on money matters is a major distraction from true planning for retirement. Everyone worries about money. The old may worry even more. Graham continues:

"Our society places too much emphasis on money, implying that financial achievement is the main measure of a person's true success in life." (Billy Graham, Nearing Home, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, 59)

Great counsel. I think of couples whose life savings have been lost due to financial scandals such as the infamous Madoff Ponzi scheme. One couple laments about their loss, saying that they will never be able to retire. Reason: No money.

One elderly widower I know speaks constantly about money or the lack of it. She asks her children constantly for money, using her old age as the reason. She does not want to die poor. Many of us will be able to share stories of old folks in our midst who are exhibiting similar behaviour.

The question: Is money the solution to a good life of retirement?

KEY: No. The fact is this. For money-minded people, no amount of money is ever enough. For heavenly-minded people, godliness with contentment is great gain.

C)  The Loss of Purpose

The second consequence of forgetting our stories is the loss of purposeful living. A few weeks ago, I wrote on my Facebook profile the following:
Ambition Through the Ages:
Young: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Teenager: "What do you want to do when you grow up?"
Adult: "What is my calling as I busy myself day and night?"
Old: "What have I done?""
Is this familiar to you?

It is well known that we live in a busy and fast paced society. When times are good, this word 'retirement' is simply an after-thought. When times are bad, we dread even thinking about it. Some people retire at the age of 30 after striking a fortune. Some take retirement benefits when they sense they have passed their prime. Others retire when they are pushing 60. Some people never really retire, blaming it on the economic situation, the state of their finances, or simply an inability to let go of their familiar work routines. One couple, the Friedmans, invested their life savings in an investment fund, lost everything (US$3million) due to the infamous Madoff Ponzi scandal. With their nest-egg gone, they have no choice but to continue working in order to pay their bills and make ends meet.

D) The Life of Teresa Hsu

This grand lady of charity died on Dec 7th, 2011 in Singapore. She was 113, the oldest person in the small island country. Yet, her life emanates power and vitality. Having gone through poverty, she can understand the dire straits of people living in hunger and need. Having experienced her parent's lifestyle of giving and charity, she can learn to share whatever she had. Teresa recalls at time when she was so hungry that she had to chew and swallow grass to satisfy her hunger. She still felt hungry. What was helpful then was to satisfy the thought of her thinking that she was hungry. After that experience, she learned to share whatever she has with others, constantly thinking of people who are less fortunate than others.

Teresa Tsu (1898-2011)
In life, we are so apt to compare ourselves with the rich, the famous, the powerful, and the people high up the echelons of society. Unfortunately, when we are fixated in one direction (looking at the rich), we fail to turn around to see the other direction (looking at the rest who are not as rich). There are always needs around us. This attitude of looking out for those less fortunate drives Teresa's life. She believes in helping people with whatever she has. Some of us think that the only way we can help others is to wait for a $1million to accumulate in our bank account, or to receive something first. The truth is, we can always share. We can always give of what we have. Take a closer look, and chances are, all of us have extras to go around all the time.

Teresa's life does not develop out of a vacuum. She did not have a miraculous vision or splendid announcement from somewhere. Instead, she learns from her mother. There was a time in which someone who has not eaten for 2 days came to them for food. Immediately, her mother took the food from the table and gave it to them saying:

"We ate yesterday. They have not eaten for 2 days. They have more right to the food than we."

This begins Teresa's 'guiding light' all her life in which she is constantly thinking of people less fortunate than her. Wow! What a lady!

E) Concluding Thoughts

This is the way to retire. This is the way to rework our lives. Do not be distracted by financial limitations. Do help with whatever we can. There is always extras. Do not despair for the lack of purposefulness. Learn from people of wisdom. Learn from others who have inspired us. Maybe, as a gift to the world, to our friends and loved ones, live an exemplary life. Leave a path of faithfulness, charity, and conviction in Christ, to guide the ones younger than us. That all who come behind us will find us faithful.

There is no retirement age for the Christian. There is only constant reworking of our abilities, constant reminders of God's grace, and constant passing of the gospel baton to the next generation. Best of all, the way to retire well, is when someone else is able to tell OUR stories, as one that reflects Christlikeness.  Don't forget your own story.

THOUGHT: "How can we know - beyond a shadow of doubt - that there is life after death? The only way would be for someone to die - and then come back to life and tell us what lies beyond the grave. And that's exactly what happened when Jesus Christ rose again from the dead." (Billy Graham, Nearing Home, Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, 169)

Note: If you want to see the life-giving work of Teresa Hsu, click here.

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