The Last Temptations of the Retired

Photo by Yosuke Ota on Unsplash

Substack has a writer named Sari Botton who manages the Oldster Substack. This stack invites people to write about the aging process at the stage in which they find themselves. Sari asks, “who decides at what age ‘old’ begins?” She maintains that from the moment we are born, we are all aging, but of course there is a definite bias of topics that includes how people feel as they enter their fifth, sixth, and seventh decades and beyond. The author invites celebrities and non-celebrities to fill out an Oldster Questionnaire that delves into the emotions of aging and yields some surprising answers. Author Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love, recently responded and spoke of the freedom she finds in the “second half of life.” You can read her “This is 54” article on the Oldster Substack.

All this talk of aging has led to some reflection on my part. It is hard to avoid the obvious greying of the population wherever we go. Restaurants and craft breweries are frequented by the newly retired while being served by mostly young people working their way through educational programs. Pickleball for seniors is growing everywhere. The Baby-Boomer demographic (those born between 1946 and 1964) is still the largest population demographic in the western world and the scramble for control of culture and politics sometimes leads to tension between the Boomers and other generations. As one born in 1960, I am late to the gate but still part of this massive demographic and find myself wanting to push against the general trends of the Boomers. I will soon need to consider retirement of some sort. It will not mean a cessation of work, but rather turning my work, skills, and abilities toward hobbies and part-time work. I am still working on what this will look like.

But being a young Baby-Boomer has its advantages. I have watched how others have retired. Some are doing it very well, some struggle, and most are muddling along somewhere in between. Retirement, like all other stages of life, has temptations. We could spend a long time speaking of the various temptations in other stages of life such as youth, young adulthood, dating, marriage, singleness, re-singleness, middle-age, and others.

Every stage of life has its own wilderness and perhaps that is how we are to understand the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. Matthew 4 in the Bible recounts the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness and his subsequent temptations by the tempter. For me, it has been profitable to see each of the three temptations in the context of my current stage of near retirement. What power would each of the temptations of Jesus have upon me at this stage of life?

The first temptation, “tell these stones to become bread,” is about seeking to meet our own needs rather than relying upon God, the Provider. Through my sixty and more years of life, I have been well cared for by a loving Father who gives bread rather than stones and fish rather than snakes, to quote a parable of Jesus. Yet, I still find myself wondering, “Will the Lord of my life continue to look after my needs and a few of my desires?” It is a valid question; we all know some who, through no fault or little fault of their own, find themselves without sufficient funds to take care of their needs in their retirement years. Why should I be more special to God than they are? Yet do I not remember all the times when, even in desperate need, my Provider provided for me? The temptation is to watch my retirement funds too closely as the stock markets rise and fall. The temptation is to think that I must somehow take care of my own needs rather than live the life to which I am called and trust that God will continue to meet my needs and a few of my desires, as he has in the past.

The second temptation, “jump off this height,” is a temptation to impress others with our ability to entertain or maybe just to survive. The retirement years can lead to a loss of identity and purpose. If I am no longer a pastor, if I am no longer an executive, if I am no longer a worker, who am I? What is my purpose in life? Am I seeking to impress others with who I am in my latter years? Do I need to stand out and be noticed? Must I entertain or impress to show my worth? Is there not enough purpose in the words, “you shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbour as yourself?” This has always been the purpose of life for all of us, and it remains our purpose even in retirement.

The third temptation, where the tempter says, “bow down and worship me,” is all about what we will pursue. The tempter tells Jesus that he can have everything he could possibly want and get it without having to go to the cross. With a simple bend of the knee, Jesus could have all things. We see lots of people seeking all things. They are looking for the best in food and drink, the greatest places in the world to visit, great experiences, concerts, and the best sex. They seek after these things and are still not satisfied. They can’t find just the right craft beer, or wine, or restaurant and they go away from their pursuits deflated and unhappy. They worship the god of their desires and find that this god’s appetite is insatiable. As Charlie Peacock says in his song, “Monkeys at the Zoo,”

“No amount of green, gold or silver, the perfect body, another hot toddy, work for the Lord, fame and power, power and sex, a seat at the table at the Belle Mead Country Club, here’s the rub: nothing will ever take the place of the peace of God.”

So, what will we pursue in retirement? I certainly want to do more than the person represented by the bumper sticker I saw recently, “I’m retired, don’t ask me to do a damn thing.” That is not the image of a good retirement plan. Do I qualify yet as an oldster? Perhaps I do. In every stage of life, there are temptations. Wasting time worrying about finances or the length of our days will not add one dollar or one day to our tally. Trying to impress others and show them that we are still important will not benefit us. Worshipping our taste buds and other desires can never satisfy. The answer has always been and will always be loving God and loving our neighbour. That is a worthy desire.

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