As I worked my way through the books of Kings and Chronicles I noted a concerning pattern of behavior. I found examples of men who started well but dropped their guard and tumbled into depravity as age and experience increased. Jehoshaphat, Joash, and Uzziah all made the list. Did pride displace their youthful dependence on God? Might their accumulated power have created a false sense of invincibility? Or was the cause something simpler like abundant free time that allowed them to pursue untapped ambitions?
I find it easy to shake my head and cluck my tongue over these guys. Surely, I would never follow their downward path, would I? For a couple of years now I have been checking the last box (60+) on most forms that ask for age. And wow, do I ever have to scroll to find the year of my birth in online forms! At my age I have some free time and more options than I can pursue.
That highlights a common retirement quandary. What ambitions will drive me? How will I invest my time? Certainly chores and adult responsibilities clamor for attention. Maintenance and repairs must be completed. Leisure and fun fit in somewhere. If I live to the average age for a US male—seventy-two—that opens to me about fifteen years for retirement. And for some reason those years seem shorter than the years of my twenties and thirties. Time is streaking by.
In one of my favorite movies, Secondhand Lions, the character, Garth, played by Michael Cain explains his purchase of matching overalls and hats to his brother, Hub, played by Robert Duvall. Garth states with authority, “Gardening – it’s what retired people do.” I will confess that my attention to the garden and landscape around my home has gained steam since I retired. I can allocate prime-time hours and work at a leisurely pace rather than rush to plant and mow and rake in the fifteen minutes of daylight remaining after a long day at work.
But is gardening all I want or need to accomplish?
I make lists to steer my daily actions because I forget stuff that I do not write down. I also tend to schedule more than time and stamina will allow me to accomplish. Often I reclassify items on the lists as “stretch goals” as in “I’ll do this if there’s time and I still have energy.” I’m learning that it’s OK to leave stuff or another day.
I am getting things done, but as the days stretch into weeks and months what am I accomplishing? And does it matter?
Bob Goff, in his book, Dream Big, offers valuable advice on defining ambitions and setting goals. Here are some quotes:
- “The ambitions worth pursuing are those with the longest shelf life. Get clear about what you believe will last in your life.”
- “Stress test your ambition. Will it matter in a year? Ten years? How about in one hundred years?”
- “Make sure you set your compass in the right direction: always pointing toward the things that will last and make an impact in the lives of others.”
What longterm task should I consider if any? What contribution will make a difference? Is it too late to impact others? Or, as a retired person who is out of the workforce, am I finished? Clearly Jehoshaphat, Joash, and Uzziah lost track of the bigger picture in their senior years. Now it’s my turn to define my retirement. One grave concern is that I not grow complacent and let my relationship with God flounder or slide backwards.
The Bible paints a clear picture in Psalm 106 of some people whose ambitions led them to crash and burn spiritually. Though we cannot authoritatively tag these as “retired folks” the lessons illustrated by their example can help us.
They did not remember God’s kindness.
Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; They did not remember Your abundant kindnesses, But rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.Psalms 106:7 NASB
Israel received blessings by the truckload. God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Israel left in the dead of night with their pockets filled with treasures the Egyptians donated to hurry the departure. God gave unmistakable travel directions with a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. A large body of water parted to reveal a dry path through its middle. The pursuing enemy army drowned at one end of that path while the Israelites continued across at the other. God’s faithfulness carried them through every mile of their journey. How does anyone forget these astounding acts of God’s kindness?
I’m no different than those pilgrims. I forget the kindnesses and blessings of God in my life. I have to review and remind myself of what He’s done. I have to train myself to stop and give thanks. I need to reinforce good memories by rehearsing them. All I have has been given to me by the grace of God. That includes the challenges and opportunities He delivers to stretch my level of endurance.
They forgot God’s works.
They quickly forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel,Psalms 106:13 NASB
Once I stop remembering God’s kindnesses and lose awareness of and discontinue counting my blessings I forget an important key to life. I do not have now nor did I ever have the knowledge and wisdom to direct my own steps. I am dependent on God for guidance. Stack that need up beside His track record of works in my life and the realization should be obvious. He is the best One, the only One, to provide reliable counsel.
They did not listen to God’s Word.
…They did not listen to the voice of the LORD.Psalms 106:25 NASB Selected
Book stores, web pages, streaming broadcasts, documentaries and news programs, favorite preachers and ministries – we have access to scads of wisdom. But not all of it is truth. Our discernment must be sharpened to enable us to choose. We have one standard of truth – God’s Word— for all of life including the retirement years.
But grumbled in their tents…Psalms 106:25 NASB Selected
Grumbling becomes a favorite pastime as we grow older, right? We love to rehearse our aches and pains. We find special joy in recounting in excruciating detail the medical procedure we just survived along with the symptoms that drove our quest to seek help. And do we ever complain about the coming generations as we lament the loss of common sense as a character asset! We insist, “I wasn’t like that when I was a kid. I knew how to work.”
The practice of grumbling has side effects, one of which is to mold our minds to think negatively. We see what we’ve trained our minds to see, and we often miss the truth or an opportunity to model the truth.
I stood in deep funk as I waited in the checkout line. I didn’t feel like running errands anyway, and the fact that the store had a single register in service did not help. I watched the young lady with her many piercings and tattoos as she scanned groceries. Her hair was a tri-mix of electric pink, glowing blue, and the blond of her birth. As my turn grew closer I noted her eyes – dull and light-less. No sparkle. The COVID mask covered much of her face, but what I could see reflected no signs of joy.
As I waited in impatience I formed a negative opinion. And God’s Spirit kicked me in the backside. Maybe He gently urges you, but I’m a little slow, and He often has to jump start my thinking. His message was clear, “Say something nice to this lady.” I looked behind me and noted there were no additional patrons-in-waiting so the excuse of delaying the line vanished.
All I could think of was, “I like your hair.” And her countenance changed in an instant. Life blazed up in her eyes. Dimples appeared above the mask. She turned to show me the back and ran her fingers through to flip the tresses. I commented that my daughter likes to do her hair in various shades and even did her husband’s hair while he was napping (I think he was napping). That young lady and I connected for about a minute until customer traffic called her back to work. Did I make a difference in her life? Who knows? But that event sure made a difference in mine. I have to get outside my pile of grumblings and say something nice to others.
Now, let’s return to ambitions. Should I have some? If so, have I examined them thoroughly? Will the ones I am pursuing take me closer to or further away from God? Increased age does not guarantee good decision making as Jehoshaphat, Joash, and Uzziah demonstrated for us.
In a future session we will examine the practical side of forming and fostering ambitions. I hope you will join us.