The Retirement Reformation Manifesto (part 1)

The first principle in the Manifesto is Freedom: We live for more than our culture’s definition and expectations of retirement.

When we interact with those either about to enter retirement or one of the stages of retirement, freedom is a priority for most. When we explore the meaning of freedom, there are multiple perspectives.

Most of us think about the freedoms we enjoy in the United States as a result of our revolution and exchanging the taxation bonds of England for the messiness of our governance. Starting there, it is easy to get excited and passionate about breaking away from anything that pains us and it is a beautiful thing.

I just got an email from a friend who has been in physical pain for a couple of years. She was excited, almost giddy, about finding a solution to her pain. She described it as being free of pain. Experience freedom from pain for the first time in a long time. What a blessing.

Within the context of the Retirement Reformation, we are challenged to reframe our thinking about Retirement - those years after the paycheck stops, or after we’ve sold our company, or moved from a non-profit position to a truly non-profit position.

Our thinking about these last stages of life is so dominated by our culture. First, our culture suggests that retirement is one homogeneous period. It doesn’t say that directly, but the ads, the messaging all suggest “retirement” as one event, not a series of stages. Our challenge then is to rethink and reframe how we think about this upcoming time or the next stage of life.

By in large, we frame retirement as freedom from all the things we don’t like about our working life or our career. Mainly we think about freedom from work. Here is a dictionary definition of work:

Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.

Freedom from work or not having to make an effort sounds so good, yet when we explore what brings us joy, it is not so much the absence of work or effort, but what the work or effort entails and accomplishes.

Unfortunately, we don’t take the next step in the thought process of “freedom from” and ask the next question in the sequence, “freedom to”. What are we now free to do given that we’ve thrown off the shackles of the job?

Our culture defines retirement as one long, downhill slog experiencing decreased physical and mental abilities ending in death with the goal of jamming as much leisure activity as we can into the intervening years. It would seem like our goal is to accomplish nothing and to have fun doing it. Not much meaning and purpose there.

A better goal is to find freedom from that meaningless void and replace it with activities filled with meaning and purpose to us, and to others. I’ve been on ships arriving in New York harbor and have seen the faces reflecting the joy of expected freedom in America. The Statue of Liberty is indeed a beacon of hope. As a 7-year-old I experienced the results of Nazi occupation and terror in the Netherlands. Arriving soon after the liberation of the Netherlands, I saw the excitement, the relief, and the sheer joy as freedom appeared in the form of US Aid.

I’ve seen the joy on the face of an Indian woman learning what freedom in Christ can mean for her relationship with her husband and children. Freedom is the shout. Freedom is the desire. Freedom is critical. Freedom in Christ is best. Knowing that we are free from sin because of God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice - it doesn’t get much better than that!

We have included freedom as the first of the Retirement Reformation Manifesto principles. Without experiencing the freedoms I’ve just written about, the rest of the Manifesto will ring hollow. With freedom comes the open door to respond to God’s call, become more than we are, and serve those in need fulfilling our unique role in building the Kingdom of God here and now.

As you read and connect with the Retirement Reformation Manifesto, be assured that you are joining a growing throng who say with you, “Give me the freedom to know God’s plan for the next stage of my life and the passion to put it into action!”

Bruce Bruinsma