“God, you have taught me from my youth, and I still proclaim your wondrous works. Even while I am old and gray, God, do not abandon me, while I proclaim your power to another generation, your strength to all who are to come.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When the Social Security Act was first passed into law in 1935, its purpose was to help take care of seniors. The idea was that people who had worked their whole life shouldn’t have to worry about how they were going to be provided for when they couldn’t work anymore. Interestingly, though, the enrollment age was set at 65. The average life expectancy then for men was 61, for women, 63. For most people, there was no real idea of retiring and just being old. They worked until they died. We as a culture don’t have any real idea what to do with age. That’s too bad, because the Scriptures envision something entirely more noble for it.
What do you plan to do when you retire? Today, unlike 1935, there are millions of people who retire from their career and still live another 30-40 years. That’s a lot of time to fill. Imagine for a minute that’s you. What do you plan to do with that time?
Our culture struggled with the notion. No really, we do. While, yes, some people make elaborate plans for wha they want to go and do and see, the truth is that when you take work out of our lives—something God ordained and created us to do—life loses a lot of its luster. We can only make up things to do for ourselves with no real purpose for so long before the boredom begins to creep up on us.
The ugly truth is that we don’t care for or about our seniors like we should. We too often ignore them. We don’t see the purpose for them. We consider them a burden. We wish they were just gone. So, we stick them in nursing homes and forget about them. We pass euthanasia laws and let…or even encourage…them to kill themselves so we don’t have to deal with them anymore. Stories of families rearranging or uprooting their lives in order to care for aging parents themselves are a far too rare gem these days.
None of this is how things should be. In the Scriptures there is no vision for the idealized notion of retirement as the season of life when we just go and play and do all the things we never had time to do during our working days. Neither, though, is there a vision of old people simply being forgotten or otherwise pushed to the margins of society.
Instead, the vision of the Scriptures—like this very Psalm, for instance—is entirely more noble than that. The oldest among us should be treasured and honored for their experience and wisdom. We should celebrate that anyone manages to live through a whole career and still has gas left in the tank.
At the same time, as this psalmist makes clear, that honor comes with expectations. There is an expectation of those with the most wisdom and experience—those who have had a lifetime to grow into a relationship with God—to share it with folks who aren’t quite as far along on the journey.
Indeed, this is perhaps the view of retirement of the Scriptures. When someone reaches the age that a career is no longer possible (although, I heard recently about a man who retired from a long career as a state trooper in one county only to take up a retirement position with another department where he still serves actively…at 91), we who aren’t there yet have a duty to honor them with care they can’t provide for themselves. And by we, I don’t mean the society in general, much less the state. On the other hand, they—perhaps you—have a duty to pour into we who have life cups that aren’t quite so full as theirs.
Let me put that more plainly: If you are in that season of life when the years behind you are more numerous than the years ahead of you, God has a specific call on your life: Pour your faith into the next generation. The prayer of the psalmist here should be your prayer: God don’t abandon me while I proclaim your power to another generation, your strength to all who are to come.
If you have reached retirement age, your life is far from over, but neither can it be all about you. You have the gift from God of an opportunity for a purpose and meaning that just may be more fulfilling than anything you did during your working career. You have the opportunity to pour into the next generation to see the kingdom of God expand in ways you never could have done before. You will never do anything more significant in your life than that.
If you are in a season of life when you might claim the label “old,” your life is not even close to over. Your greatest worth to the kingdom of God just may still be ahead of you. Embrace the calling He has for you and experience the joy that comes by no other means.