Tuesday 8 May 2012


Productive retirement is when you’re not over the hill and you’re still able to say, “Give me this mountain!”

When was the first time you noticed you were ageing? When the supermarket cashier called you uncle or auntie? When you started using reading glasses? Or was it when the graying, wrinkling and sagging became more obvious?

Whatever the case, retirement is a phase that is often emotionally-charged. Some take it positively in their stride while others view it with apprehension and fear.

How do we view retirement? Do we welcome it, believing the best is yet to come and lay hold of God’s will for our lives? Is it a phase to be dreaded? Or is it a season to be focused on the pursuit of leisure?

Give me this mountain!

Consider Caleb who, even in his eighties, still looked forward to conquering new lands and defeating his enemies. “Give me this mountain which God has promised me.” That was his battle cry. But often our enemies are not out there but within—we are sometimes our own worst enemies. When we view ourselves negatively, we not only shortchange ourselves but miss out on what God has in store for us (Joshua 14:10-12).

A warrior at heart, Caleb was not only physically but spiritually strong as well. As General Douglas MacArthur says, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” He had this fighting spirit right to the very end.

Mind over matter

The Bible associates ageing with the ebbing away of various faculties resulting in a general slowing down, frailty, insomnia and a diminished zest for life. Life’s pleasures seem to be less enjoyable, contributed in part by the loss of teeth (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7). In the worst case scenario, it may mean a loss of will to live.

But some seniors can get carried away by this notion, seeing themselves as old and decrepit even when they are not.

Others, in contrast, feel strong like the cedars of Lebanon, able to remain productive and useful to a ripe old age.

As American humorist, Mark Twain, puts it: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.”

Golden years

Our grey-haired years can be the golden period. By lifestyle modification, good personal healthcare and a positive mental attitude, we can delay the inevitable effects of ageing and still remain active, upbeat and productive.

Bob Buford, author of Half Time, believes that in the second half of our life, we should be moving from success to significance. Armed with wisdom, experience, skill and training acquired through the years, retirees can contribute much to the home, church and community. Many would have attained financial stability and thus have the financial resources to help others. All these factors plus God’s empowerment enable seniors to lead fulfilling lives with eternal significance.

Reinventing ourselves

What do we do with the second half of our life, given that we are still healthy and have 20 or even 30 years of productive life left? Our flesh tells us, “Take it easy. You deserve it, after having worked so hard all these years.” In a sense, we all need a break on and off. It’s perfectly legitimate. However, to let leisure be our preoccupation would be wrong.

"Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

How many tours and cruises can we go for?  After a while, we’ll be looking for something that will lead us towards the path of fulfilment and self-actualisation (as described by American psychologist Abraham Maslow).

Being active does not necessarily mean a “nose to the grindstone” existence. Often it means re-inventing our gifts and talents. For example, a person who was inclined towards writing (but may have been too busy managing his own business in the first half of his life) might now seize the chance to develop his writing in the second half. He can now write not for sustenance but to share important lessons with others and also for personal fulfilment. Above all, he believes in the power of writing to transform lives and feels God has called him to a lonely and painstaking task few would undertake. Yet it’s a matter of attitude; if work seems fun, it’s no longer burdensome.

An engineer might help to dig tube wells (which supply potable water to the poor) in Africa. A doctor could volunteer his services in mission hospitals in Thailand. A teacher could go to China to teach elementary English, offering hope and the chance of a better life to the marginalised. You could be a mentor in a church or an NGO. You could be a role model to your grandchildren, imparting values while their parents are busy at work. You don’t even need to be involved in ground-breaking research or make the headlines. So retire not, but re-fire … before you expire.


Even before we think of living productively in our second half, we have to first prepare ourselves. 
Many retirees are unprepared for the physical and mental challenges when they stop work. Problems include disease, disability, inadequate finances or healthcare, aged appearance, sexual problems and memory loss.

Here are some tips on how to age gracefully:

  1. Keep yourself active. Get off the couch. Walk briskly for 15 minutes away from your home and walk back. Do this at least three times a week.
  2. Take it easy. By managing stress, we reduce the ill effects of free radicals which damage cells and cause premature ageing. Indulge in hobbies as time allows. Laugh more, often at yourself.
  3. Widen your social network. By sharing experiences you share your joys and struggles, get encouraged, learn new things and grow.
  4. Stop smoking and drink alcohol moderately. Go for regular medical check-ups for early detection of diseases.
  5. Eat a healthy balanced diet with fruits and vegetables, lean meat (preferably white, not red), complex carbohydrates and fibre. Not all fats are bad as small amounts of monounsaturated fats (from nuts and olive oil) are healthy. Think of functional foods (like soya, yogurt) as well.
  6. Keep on learning. Research disproves the adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Take up challenging puzzles and games. Learn to do research on the Internet. Learn a new subject by enrolling in a course.
  7. Be a volunteer or take up a part-time job. This develops both your social and intellectual skills.
  8. Financial preparation is crucial. No one fancies living on the goodwill of others when we outlive our finances. Inflation can derail our plans.
  9. Decide whether it’s best to live with one’s own family or in a retirement home.
A renewed mindset

Ageing is inevitable. No one can stop the relentless march of time. What is important is how we view ageing and how committed we are to God’s calling. If our minds and physical bodies slow down, should our faith slow down as well?

Far from endless tours, a couch potato existence or endless chasing after golf balls, the twilight years may be our best years yet. Like wine we mellow with age.

Our physical bodies may lose their glow but our lives remain radiant as we seek to live out His ways till the end. “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day” (Proverbs 4:18).

The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, August 2009, issue 41.4.

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