By Terry Magee
Those of us in middle age can feel sandwiched between caring for aging parents and continuing to give attention to our children. These responsibilities are piled atop our current demands emanating from work, church, and other regular commitments. Our workload now can make us lose sight of what we will be doing some day.
But one day our load will lighten. Our formal working days will come to an end. Our children will hopefully fly the coop for good. Are we ready to embrace the next stage in our lives? Do we even have a thought as to God’s calling on our lives in our later years?
Rather than waiting until that day arrives, we can be spending our middle age years getting ready for our retirement years. As important as financial planning is for our balance sheets, spiritual planning can yield great kingdom benefits as we seize ministry opportunities unavailable or impractical in earlier years.
Now is the time to plan for our future. This planning consists of three areas: preparation, practice, and pacing.
If you wait until the first day of your retirement to ponder what to do with the rest of your life, you are too late. Now is the time to start preparing for those future years. Proverbs 6:6-8 reminds us that even ants prepare ahead by storing food: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”
Be in prayer regarding potential ministries to which God is calling you for this stage of life, and then start getting ready. Is additional education or training required? Start taking those classes now, because with your current schedule you may need to limit yourself to one college-type course at a time. Remember, this is on top of your current work schedule and other responsibilities, so you might even be taking breaks between courses to respond to the demands of current life.
Is God calling you to teach overseas or in an urban setting? Certain certifications will be needed which will also require coursework. Are new skills required? Find a mentor you can work with to develop these skills.
One of the joys of getting older is that we value education. I returned to college once my children were nearly done with their educations. Parenting had become more episodic than daily function. It was easy to shift some of the funds previously going to their schooling to my education. Feeling called to equip myself for more teaching and writing, I got a master’s degree in Bible. You may not feel the need for formal training, but equip yourself now to prepare for the next stage in your life.
We also must include spiritual preparation. Are you maintaining a steady devotional and prayer life? Are you continually feeding yourself from the Word? Now is the time to address any problems and give them to God. Strengthen yourself now, “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
Once you have set your direction and have begun acquiring new skills or education, it is time to put these into practice. Do not wait until retirement to test your new knowledge. It may be volunteering with a local charity or taking on a new role at church. Regardless of the venue, seek places to try out your new or refined abilities.
Feel called to get more involved in missions? Spend time going on short-term trips. I am teaching regularly in my church, which I would do anyway. But I am also going on annual teaching mission trips. These are different from the standard mission trip centered on construction or VBS. We are teaching adult pastors and church leaders to equip them for their ministry. I can only spare a week of vacation now, but this lays the groundwork for more extensive serving in the future.
These current serving experiences become a confirmation of your sense of calling. Much like an internship helps a college student decide if he or she is in the right career, these limited and short-term opportunities help you gauge if this type of ministry or service is the right fit for you. Better to realize that now and change course than to make a bigger commitment to a ministry for which you are not suited.
If this area of serving is a right fit, you will find yourself becoming increasingly excited for what the future will bring. Rather than “playing out the string” with your current career, you are getting ready for a rewarding new postretirement career. You are building for your future ministry of serving God in an exciting new way.
I have learned as I get older that I simply cannot get as much done as quickly as when I was younger. I look back at my schedule and activities from those years and am amazed how I maintained that pace. I certainly cannot match that energy level now.
Even for healthy people, the aging process causes us to naturally tire quicker and take longer to rebound. We have to work harder to gear up for physical activities and pace ourselves in our days. This is not a problem; we just have to recognize it as a reality of our stage of life.
I no longer have the need to play the role of the young strong person. When I returned to college, I went to Israel as part of my education. (I wrote about memories of this experience in a previous article for The Lookout.) Most of the students were younger than my own children. I felt no need to compete with them in energy while touring or in strength and speed while working at the archaeological dig. I was a middle-aged man enjoying the experience and knowing when to take a break so that I did not burn out and could enjoy the entire trip.
Working to build preparation and practice into our schedules can be difficult, as our capacity to keep pushing on will seem diminished. We need to gauge ourselves and make sure we do not suffer burnout or breakdown in our quest to get ready for our next stage of life. After all, we cannot set aside our current responsibilities. That is why it is important to start early, in case living our life now causes a certain ebb and flow to our getting ready for postretirement.
Start Now, Reap the Benefits Later
This sounds challenging to add yet another demand on our already busy schedules. People in middle age are often still raising children, caring for (or planning for) aging parents, and maintaining a full work schedule. This will seem tough, if not impossible, to achieve in any substantial fashion.
It can become too easy to focus on the present and let the future worry about itself. Things could change five different ways and even derail the best-laid plans. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). The temptation is to become overwhelmed at the uncertainty and put off any meaningful planning for postretirement years.
A bigger temptation is to label those retirement years as “me” years—to focus on all the activities, hobbies, and avocations set aside during the busy years of raising a family and working; to say that a little self-indulgence is a reward for keeping diligently to the task throughout your working years. We would then lose a great opportunity to serve God in a new and significant way. The world needs our wisdom and experience, honed by years of living life.
Our missions pastor refers to people in our category as “finishers.” These are people who worked in the marketplace rather than full-time ministry, but they served God throughout their lives. They now want to give back to God as thanks for a life filled with blessings.
Start today to seek out new ways to serve God, even as you work and manage multiple generations around you. This is your way to finish life well.
Terry Magee and his wife live in Pennsylvania where he teaches at his church and is planning for postretirement ministry (terrymagee.net).