The first truth for me about my death is that I firmly believe that God, not death, does have and will have the final word. If you are in some form of the final phase of life, whether possibly imminent because of illness, or simply because your age suggests that it is not that many years away, I think you have to come to terms with that basic truth. For Paul that was one of the core truths of the resurrection. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Cor 15:54b-55.
Having said that, however, I am comfortable with confessing that I don’t know what the implications of that truth are for me personally. That is, while I believe that God, not death, has the final word, I do not know what that final word, in my personal situation, will be. I’m not really talking about heaven or hell. I’m simply talking about the future beyond death. If you examine the Scripture, there is very little actually said about what happens beyond death. Yet that doesn’t scare me because I trust that God is good and therefore what is good is what will happen since God has the final word.
Do I want to experience glad heavenly reunions? Sure! But I’m not sure that projecting a continuation of our finite life encompasses what is true. While I’ve had a wonderful life, part of that wonder and appreciation was nurtured by the very finiteness of life. How would life look if it were no longer finite or subject to the limitations that provided the savor of life. I once was talking to a confirmation class and one of the youth suggested that if eternal life meant that you would just sit around heaven all day, then it sounded rather boring to him.
I return to my conclusion, that I am willing to trust God for that answer. What do you believe?
In my last blog, I spoke about living life in the realistic awareness that I will die within the next several years. In a theoretical sense, we all know that we are going to die, but most of us live in denial of that truth as we continue to fill our days with activities and accomplishments. As I enter my 72 years of life, I am filled with gratitude for all that I have been privileged to experience but I also am more aware that someday it will have to come to an end.
I am now faced with what I believe about death in a more personal way. About twenty years ago, I had a mini-rehearsal of this question when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. While I was more fortunate than many in the outcome of my treatment, I had no way of being sure of that at the time. Two things happened for me at the time. One, I realized that I actually did believe what I had been preaching to others about God, not death having the final word. But, two, I also was rather optimistic about my being able to triumph over this challenge. While I knew that death was a very real possibility, and I was willing to accept that if it came, still I didn’t really believe it was going to come.
But when it does come, and it will eventually, what is it that I believe about that reality? While that is a long preamble, on my next blog I will try to speak to my belief about death and how that affects my living in this phase of my life.
As part of my spiritual discipline of reading Scripture in this new phase of my life, I want to read it as speaking to my personal experience in this chapter of my life. I want to listen with a new set of ears. For example, I have read Matthew 24:36 many times. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” For many Christians, it speaks of the coming of Christ. It assures believers that this world and its history has a point. It is going somewhere and God through Christ will triumph in the end. The prayer, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is not an unrealistic dream but a realistic expectation. Our efforts for good are not in vain but are part of the fulfillment of history that will take place.
That is how I have always read that passage and in a macro sense I still read it that way. But, in addition to that understanding, I am now listening in a more personal way. It is captured in the metaphor used to describe a person’s death. They say that s/he has gone to meet his or her maker. While it has always been true, my death is a lot more likely in this phase of my life than in previous times. I can no longer live under the illusion of immortality. It may not happen in the next ten years but it is likely to happen in less than twenty years. However, as the verse says, “about that day and hour” I do not know. How am I to now live in the face of a limited time left on this earth?
Later in the passage, Matthew 25:13, it says, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” From a personal standpoint, I need to explore how I can keep awake to the imminence of my own death. I do not see that as a depressive reality but rather as a new challenge and adventure.
How do you view that phase of your life?
Retirement also affects your family relationships. If you have been a seventy hour a week pastor, it is an adjustment to suddenly not have to “go to work.” Of course you may still be very busy but you will have a new range of choices in how to fill your time. Both you and your spouse, as well as your adult children may have expectations with respect to how you spend your time. One of the healthiest exercises you can engage in is to bring those various expectations out in the open.
At least with your spouse, but if possible with your children and grandchildren, it would be good for all of you to take a few moments and write out at least five expectations that you have with respect to how you will be spending your time in retirement. It won’t cover everything but you will probably be surprised at some of the assumptions that are under the surface. It might even be a fun evening for you to hear what your grandchildren are thinking as well as other members of the family.
A more serious and very important issue is for you and your spouse to do this with each other. While your spouse may have strong feelings about your wearing yourself out with seventy hour weeks, that spouse may not be ready to have you hanging around home all day either. Or she may be assuming that you will now be free to help her or be with her in ways that you have not known.
If you have hobbies that you have been longing to engage in, how will your spouse feel about your time spent in those activities. Has he or she been anticipating some activities that you have not even thought of. Have your children been assuming that you would visit more often, help them out in some significant way, become involved in some of their activities, etc.
The point is that the first step to ordering your new life is to be clear about not only your expectations but also those other members of your family. Retirement can be a great opportunity for new experiences and adventures. Inadvertently it can also be a source of new tensions within your family if you don’t approach it with some clarification.
It is important in retirement that we develop a discipline with respect to finances that is consistent with our new reality. The first thing we need to do is honestly review our retirement situation. We are no longer earning a salary but we also are drawing on our various retirement benefits. If one is married, then it is important that both spouses be part of this financial review. Even if you have never done it before, it would be very helpful to put together a budget of anticipated expenses and income. The basic source of your income is your retirement benefits and Social Security. In addition, you need to look at potential income from any investments that you have. Of course it is best if your major expenses can be covered by your pension income and the Social Security for you and your spouse. If you need to draw on your investments, you need to do it in a manner that allows your drawdown from investments not to drain your resources unnecessarily.
Once you have a reasonable understanding of your potential income, then you turn to expenses. Most retirement articles suggest that your expenses will be less in retirement. Reasons for that range from a reduction in need for clothes for business, to less frequent income normally incurred during your working hours — meals, gas mileage, etc. You can find a sample budget on line and simply look at your spending patterns. If you find that difficult, a simple exercise may be helpful. Buy an inexpensive paper calendar. Tear out a month of pages and carry them with you. Honestly record every penny that you spend. At the end of one or two months, sit down and apply them to your sample budget.
If your income exceeds your expenses, consider how you might intentionally build a small savings account for special occasions or purchases in your future. If you expenses exceed your income, look at our spending patterns and see where you can make adjustments. If you and your spouse do this together, you can make a team response to your present condition and also begin to make plans for your future.