by Dorothy Littell Greco
Our retirement plan is not to retire. My husband and I might be able to stop working at some point for about six months—and then we’ll need to begin an encore career or buy an Airstream and camp out in various National Parks and Costco parking lots. Funny. Not funny.
We both made the idealistic decision to follow our dreams. To live out our callings. Unfortunately, neither of those callings happen to be valued by the mysterious powers that set salaries. He works as a teacher, worship leader, and therapist. I make photos and string words together. Both of us typically put in 50-60 hour work weeks—not because we waste time noodling around on social media or going for long lunch breaks but because that’s how many hours it takes to pull together a middle school production of Shakespeare or write a book.
Worth noting: we’re both in our mid to late fifties, live in one of the most expensive regions in the country, and have three sons.
The reality of not being able to save for retirement only troubles us when we read estimates about how much we’ll need in order to live our our lives. The rest of the time, denial serves us well. Denial and the fact that we both love what we do. Though it’s rare for anyone over the age of 35 to serve as a worship pastor these days, we see no reason why Christopher couldn’t lead some type of group sing in a local retirement home or before bingo at the senior center. And though I will not be doing photo assignments much longer, provided that my brain stays sharp and the ideas keep flowing, I should be able to continue my writing career well into my 80s.
Before you judge us as naive or irresponsible, there’s biblical precedence for our perspective. Noah was busy measuring cubits and slapping pitch between the cypress logs for his ark when he was approximately 600 years old. (OK. He lived until he was 950 so when you apply this metric to current lifespans, he was in midlife.) Neither Moses, nor Joseph, nor any of the other big name patriarchs seemed to put down their staffs and float around in the Mediterranean on holiday. And though we might envision Lydia, the Proverbs 31 woman, or Mary, the mother of Jesus, as perpetually 32, chances are, they continued their work and ministry well into old age.
The fact is, the American version of retiring to Florida (or some other low tax, sun-kissed state) in order to spend lazy afternoons in front of slot machines or teeing off on the golf course has little Scriptural support. The only mention of retirement in the Bible seems to be Numbers 8: the Levitical priests were instructed to formally retire from their duties at the tender age of 50. (Mistakes were highly consequential in their line of work. See Numbers 3:2-4)
Of course, some of our bodies simply wear out making the daily grind impossible. And some of us age out of our professions. (Forty-one-year-old New England Patriots’ QB Tom Brady is arguably a time bomb on both accounts.) But even if we get pushed out, bought out, or simply laid off, provided that we’re fairly functional, there’s little reason why we should not continue to do some form of work until we draw our final breath.
Apparently, my husband and I are not the only ones who adhere to this philosophy. According to an article in AARP, “The number of workers over age 75 who work is still a small phenomenon as a percentage of the population, but it’s definitely trending upward,” says Sara Rix, senior strategic policy adviser with the AARP Public Policy Institute. Amy Kaiser, age 70, is still conducting the St. Louis Symphony Chorus and has no plans to retire. Vermont Senator and once presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is 76. Actress Judi Dench is 83. Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of Little House on the Prairie books, did not publish until she was 65.
Assuming that we grow in wisdom and maturity and continue to become more like Jesus as we age, what we have to offer is desperately needed in this world. The experience, perspective, and maturity of a 50, 60 or 70 year old year cannot be matched by a Google search. (Just for grins, try asking Siri How do I handle a cancer diagnosis? or What’s your advice if my wife walks out? See what I mean?) By this point in our lives, we are truly valuable. Whether or not we’ll get duly compensated for our wisdom and experience is another matter.
Which leads back to our dubious retirement plan. We’re open to all leads on quiet, cheap campgrounds. And in the meantime, we’re choosing to trust that God really will somehow provide for all of our needs.
Cover photo courtesy of Dorothy (Editor’s note: She’s an amazing photographer!)