Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I recently read a Time article about problems people are having saving for retirement with a 401(k). What I found most significant in the story was what it assumes about the nature of retirement. For example:

Retiree Robert Shively spends his days on the golf course. For many, that would be a dream come true, but not quite in the way Shively does it. The 68-year-old is the cart mechanic at the Niagara Falls Country Club....

Lucantonio, 61, is proud of what he has been able to afford in retirement. He and his wife bought a cabin in New York's hilly Southern Tier. "It's even got ceramic tile in the kitchen," he says. He would like to spend more time there, but like many other former Occidental employees we talked to, he's had to unretire into a new job....

Dennis O'Neil plays the part of a former HR executive well. You can find O'Neil, who left Oxy on disability a few years ago, on a golf course, clad in picture-perfect golden-years attire: a black Izod shirt with white shorts, faux-alligator-skin cleats, Ray-Bans, a gold shamrock hanging from a gold chain on his neck and a black baseball cap. But O'Neil's retirement outlook is growing darker every day. He once made a six-figure salary, but the 63-year-old is fairly certain that his savings won't be able to sustain him for very much longer. He has some $500,000 left in his 401(k) and spends about $75,000 a year. At this rate, he worries he will tap out his retirement savings within the next decade.

Unless, as O'Neil's thinking goes, he can make something happen in the stock market. So he spends much of his day watching CNBC. "Right now, I want to know which area of the economy is going to recover first. Will it be retail? Commodities? Energy?" says O'Neil. Playing the market is probably the wrong thing to do, but he got divorced eight years ago, depleting a good portion of his savings, and his medical bills are likely to go up soon. O'Neil is going blind from histoplasmosis. These days he has to golf with a friend. He would like to buy a house in Florida before he loses his eyesight completely, but he just can't afford it.

What do people do in retirement? They play golf or buy a new home. Despite their early retirement, and despite their spending money and time on things like a new home, we're told that these people may "have" to get a job again. Things are getting "darker" for them, since they won't be able to keep spending $75000 a year.

I often meet, or hear about, people who return to work because they can't find much to do in retirement. They're bored. A few years ago, I spoke with a man, who professed to be a Christian, who was about to retire. What were his plans for retirement? Not much, apparently. His wife had lined up a long list of unnecessary housework for him to do. A television ad I saw, maybe a year or two ago, was built on the premise that people largely spend their retirement watching television. A recent study found that the average American spends more than five hours a day watching TV, and the average is higher for the elderly.

How are you using your time? How are you raising your children? What examples are you setting for them and for other people? What are your plans for retirement?

If you're a Christian who's bored, who can't think of much that's significant to do with his time, go see one of the pastors of your church. Or contact a missionary, apologist, or somebody else working in some field of Christian ministry. They should be able to give you a lot of ideas about how to better spend your time.

"Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader's Digest, which tells about a couple who 'took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.' At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn't. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life - your one and only precious, God-given life - and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your Creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: 'Look, Lord. See my shells.' That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream." (John Piper, Don't Waste Your Life [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2003], pp. 45-46)


  1. "Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: 'Look, Lord. See my shells.'"


    That's quite a wake-up call. We are supposed to be in and not of the world. How easy it is to slip into the mind-set depicted in this post.

    I'm ordering Piper's book.

    Thanks Jason.

  2. Nowhere in scripture is retirement justified. Of course, the ancient Middle East didn't quite have the concept in their culture. I for one would enjoy the opportunity to do more mission work or even local outreach.

  3. EA wrote:

    "I'm ordering Piper's book."

    I'm glad to hear that. It's well worth reading. I would encourage anybody who hasn't read it to do so. It's a good book to give to other people to influence them on issues of time management and priorities.

  4. Jim said:
    Nowhere in scripture is retirement justified.

    It could be alluded to in the concept of the Sabbath's rest. That is, you work six days, rest the seventh cashes out to work 6/7the of your average life, rest the last 1/7.

    Not that I would live or die asserting that :-D