by Joy Versluis
When I was matching laundered socks, sometimes futilely, for seven people, tracking music lessons, sports and church meetings on a whiteboard, canning applesauce, and teaching part-time, I had little inkling that the years would pass and the R-word would appear: RETIREMENT.
But that R-word recently arrived in my life, so now my computer is bookmarked to sites about Roth IRAs and Medicare.
In the circles I keep, retirement is embraced with zest and anticipation. Most friends come to this junction secure in finances and in good health, and now fill in their calendars with travel plans, church involvement, volunteer opportunities, and intentional grandchildren time.
Yet not everyone experiences an easy transition. Several friends lost their spouses to cancer, leaving their retirement dreams shattered. Some find themselves isolated by divorce, illness, or hardship.
The Scriptures recognize the limits of our days. I like how the songwriter in Psalms expresses the idea: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:10 ESV).
When my husband and I faced the reality of retirement, and specifically had to face the question of where we would live, we needed “a heart of wisdom” to discern the future. Practically, we had two options: The first, stay where we’d been living and settle into our familiar and appealing location. The second involved moving near where one of our five children and their family are living.
How to decide? How to know where to number our last decades or days?
At least four major factors played a role in our decision:
- Our pocketbook and cost of living
- The likelihood of the family staying put if we moved near them
- Our discernment process
Over a period of months, my husband and I practiced a discipline of quiet listening. On Sunday afternoons, we would light a candle, be silent for 15 minutes or so, and then share what we heard and felt during the time of reflection.
Two themes emerged to guide us: unity, that is, mutual agreement, and gratitude – appreciation for such an adventure, regardless of the location.
We made offers on various houses, some located on roads with charming names such as Morning View and Frog Hollow. Once we even offered five thousand dollars more than the asking price on a ramshackle listing, but the seller, our realtor’s aunt, declined. No properties materialized.
Then came the day when we once again browsed Zillow and saw seven acres, including a year-round creek, for a reasonable price. We asked the daughter who lived ten miles away to check it out. Her immediate response was “Buy it!” So site unseen, we made an offer, which was accepted, and we moved to another state.
Though we now will have a new address, how we adjust and thrive is still in process. A different house is only one part of the new challenges we’re facing. What will our life be like in this fresh setting? Who will our friends be when people our age often have established relationships? How long will it take to feel like home? Can we handle this adventure— and the reality that the nearest Starbucks is 25 minutes away?
We need a heart of wisdom as we move into this new phase of our lives.
As we prepared for retirement, here are five ways we’ve actively approached the process. They may be of help to you, too:
- Seeking – People of faith can pray for guidance and insight. We have a good and trustworthy God who cares about our numbered days.
- Learning – Educate yourself about the retirement process and its concurrent changes. Maybe a Sunday school class or small group could choose this topic to explore. Sign-up for a workshop about retirement, one that might include not only financial advice but provide insights about this transition time. Read about this time of passage.
- Futuring – By yourself, with a spouse, or with friends, spend time thinking about what you would like to see happen in the future, regardless of limitations. What would cause your heart to sing? Dream dreams. Be open to innovative urges. Be playful, be serious.
- Sharing – Speak to others who have retired and listen to their stories. What did they find helpful? What insights can they offer? Gather some friends who are soon to retire. What steps are they taking? What challenges do they anticipate?
- Preparing – Especially if you’re moving or downsizing, retirement can be a time of purging for the better. (See the Swedish death-cleaning model.) Retirement can be a time to bless others with material items you no longer need or use. It also can be a time to express wishes and put end-of-life concerns in place, starting those hearty conversations with loved ones.
May we find courage and delight as we grow into retirement!
Joy and her husband recently moved from a large university town in Michigan to a newly built passive solar house in a rural setting in the Shenandoah Valley. She is semi-retired, allowing for time with grandchildren and new adventures such as catching halibut in Alaska.