One surprising aspect of retirement is that life and career experience seem to lose value after the big exit. Where we once contributed to multi-million dollar projects or provided wise life council to others retired folks may find ourselves wondering what happened as the crickets creak around us.
Don’t misunderstand. I love being retired. Every day is Saturday, a reality that non-retired people envy. For the first time since before I began working at the shoe store as a teen in 1976 I have flexibility in my schedule.
I’m a storehouse of wisdom, much of it acquired at the expense of mistakes I’ve made in my well-seasoned life. I read and take notes. I think for myself. I collect data and often form conclusions based on fact. My idea generator operates (when I am not napping and sometimes when I am). The MacGyver factor rattling inside me pours out clever solutions on a weekly basis for repurpose and repair of the items I’ve collected. Of course retirement budgeting is a must and making do by keeping the old stuff working makes sense. Besides it will be easier for the kids to toss any junk bandaged with duct-tape into the dumpster when the time comes. And it will. For all of us.
Perhaps you’ve held similar thoughts as you ponder the purpose for your life in what many call Act 2. Retirement, something we’ve yearned for with golden expectations, perhaps brought some surprises such as health issues, pressing family needs, financial challenges, and a sense of being left behind in a world rocketing toward the future. The plan of leisurely travel and long evenings sipping ice tea on the deck of a private yacht vanished into the reality of fixed income, necessary pharmaceuticals, and the inability to pass up a bathroom.
It’s hard to fathom but loneliness continues as a real problem for retirees in a world with billions of people. Mix in a shrinking friends circle, toss in a dose of fewer face-to-face interactions, and then ice it all with the harshness of the limited mobility that marks many senior lives. Understanding the epidemic of loneliness now seems easier.
Too often the mother of retirement challenges, depression, clouds the existence of many seniors. Untreated depression leads to chronic health conditions, social isolation, substance abuse, physical inactivity and even more depression. Depression feeds on itself.
Read the words from the pen of a famous preacher.
Cursed be the day when I was born; Let the day not be blessed when my mother bore me! Cursed be the man who brought the news To my father, saying, “A baby boy has been born to you!” And made him very happy. But let that man be like the cities Which the LORD overthrew without relenting, And let him hear an outcry in the morning And a shout of alarm at noon; Because he did not kill me before birth, So that my mother would have been my grave, And her womb ever pregnant. Why did I ever come forth from the womb To look on trouble and sorrow, So that my days have been spent in shame?Jeremiah 20:14-18 NASB
Surprised? Shocked? That was the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah’s testimony at one point though I cannot state authoritatively his age. I can share some statistics from national health organizations on the growing trend of suicide among retired people. And, yes, depression left untreated can lead to suicide.
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated in April, 2020 that from 1999 through 2018, the suicide rate increased 35%, from 10.5 per 100,000 to 14.2. From 1999 through 2018, suicide rates among females were highest for those aged 45–64; among males, the rates were highest for those aged 75 and over.
- The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that in 2019 suicide was the fifth leading cause of death for those in the 45-54 age bracket and the eighth leading cause of death for those in the 55-64 bracket.
- The Population Reference Bureau, an organization which analyzes and disseminates information about populations and their health and well-being so it can be used to inform decisions that improve lives around the world shares this eye-opening fact: “While suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, with 11 suicide deaths per 100,000 Americans, white men over the age of 65 commit suicide at almost triple that overall rate. These men are also eight times more likely to kill themselves than are women of the same age group, and have almost twice the rate of all other groups of male contemporaries.”
Clearly retirement is not ushering in the euphoria we expected. Jeremiah has more to teach us. He began his career with marching orders directly from God.
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”Jeremiah 1:4-5 NASB
Then the LORD stretched out His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. “See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, To pluck up and to break down, To destroy and to overthrow, To build and to plant.”Jeremiah 1:9-10 NASB
Wow! A clear mandate with authority to conduct the operation. Before we marvel at Jeremiah’s advantage of knowing God’s expectations up front perhaps we need to read another verse. God gave Jeremiah the outcome before the job began.
“They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,” declares the LORD.Jeremiah 1:19 NASB
The people would not listen to the message, and in fact took steps to let Jeremiah know how they felt about him, his work, and his words.
- He was beaten and put in stocks. (Jeremiah 20:1-2)
- The priests and prophets called for his execution. (Jeremiah 26:11)
- King Zedekiah burned Jeremiah’s scroll to show contempt for the words it contained. (Jeremiah 36:23)
- King Zedekiah handed Jeremiah over to the officials who promptly dropped the prophet into a mud pit (likely a cesspool) to die. (Jeremiah 38:6)
- Jeremiah was accused of being a liar. (Jeremiah 43:2)
As with an unpopular politician the forces were marshaled against Jeremiah. Whispering campaigns maligned his character while public denunciation of his message shredded his platform. His enemies took joy in his every stumble.
O LORD, You have deceived me and I was deceived; You have overcome me and prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all day long; Everyone mocks me.Jeremiah 20:7 NASB
For I have heard the whispering of many, “Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!” All my trusted friends, Watching for my fall, say: “Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him And take our revenge on him.”Jeremiah 20:10 NASB
We peered into Jeremiah’s heart earlier and saw the black clouds of depression with which he wrestled. Jeremiah devised a simple solution to his problem, the only option which made sense to him. “I quit!” Well, he tried to quit.
But if I say, “I will not remember Him Or speak anymore in His name,” Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; And I am weary of holding it in, And I cannot endure it.Jeremiah 20:9 NASB
He intended to give up. He vowed to stop sharing God’s word. He would rock on the porch and wait for his clock to expire. In that moment of despair, Jeremiah fumbled and lost sight of his purpose. And that issue affects many retirees. We entered the retirement phase at our own choice or unwillingly through layoff or because of declining health, and now we wonder how to fill the days.
Why are we here?
Without clear purpose we can sink into the pit as Jeremiah did. We begin thinking, “I am done. Nothing left to give. Finished.”
But that is not the way God views us! His plan continues into Act 2 and beyond. He has purpose behind my days and opportunities whatever they may be. My part is to explore and watch and pay attention to learn how I can contribute. Perhaps God intends to use me in manner that stands completely different from my past involvement or career accomplishments. Is that OK with me? Well, after all, He is God.
If the topic of purpose in retirement is of interest you may want to check out these articles.
I, as well as other readers would love your input on this topic. Use the comments section to share. And take note that just like that someone is asking to tap into your knowledge. You do have a purpose.