There was a time when the transition into retirement was very straightforward! You reached retirement age, speeches were made and you retired into what invariably was a fairly sedentary existence. Nowadays it is not quite so simple! With flexible working, better health and employers actually valuing and encouraging people to stay in employment longer, the decision as to when to retire is much more complex.
A number of factors now have to be considered when deciding on the “right” time to retire. Obviously, financial constraints are a key factor but also the nature of the work, with attendant stresses, the enjoyment factor, general health and any desire for change or the opportunity to undertake new challenges or wider family considerations. All these play a part in making up our minds on exactly when to signal the end of one chapter in our working lives and the start of something new.
Finance is usually the element that looms largest. There is no doubt that unless you have a very generous pension scheme to take up, the sudden and substantial drop in income heralds a real change in lifestyle choices. I think as a Christian, the reality of oft repeated phrases during our working lives such as “my God shall supply all your needs” suddenly take on a much more real and earnest faith challenge, than when unexpected financial demands could be met by either the anticipated pay cheque or a few hours of overtime to make up any shortfall. Where once I could be comfortable food shopping and 'treat' ourselves with regularity it has now become a question of genuine affordability in more straightened circumstance. A previously verbalised dependency on God has increasingly become a source of underlying anxiety in which faith is tested and either found genuine or wanting!
On the upside, there are opportunities. When we go into retirement we might relish the chance to catch up on all the DIY that has been on the 'to do list' for years but has the potential to overwhelm or become all consuming. The additional time we look forward to with our spouse or wider family brings to light habits and attitudes that can grate and require fresh working through. Hobbies and pastimes that once were snatched moments in crowded schedules now provide opportunity to while away days in a self-centred existence. Conversely we may throw ourselves into each and every opportunity for service in the church or wider community and become so thinly spread that our retirement becomes anything but!
As I look back, I can see that my decision to retire early, aged 59, was partly driven by a sense of weariness, but also wanting to commit to meaningful Kingdom activity that simply was not possible with full-time work responsibility. The adjustment has been harder than I thought it would be, the financial worries more than I expected, the missing element of workplace interaction and friendship large and paining and to a degree, even identity threatening. As a Christian, what I can see, is the need to bring to bear all that I have articulated in the theoretical realm of biblical understanding and now, to live it out in daily life in a new way. 6 weeks in to retirement it is all very new. In a year’s time I may have some more answers!