(This is an out of the ordinary blog post as I comment upon a variety of books that deal with the title’s subjects. Nevertheless, I hope readers of all ages will read the report and pass it on to family, friends, and associates in the broad age group these books target.)
At the time of this writing I am 65 and have been “semi-retired” for a little less than two years. I read my first book about the subject a few months before I turned 61. Shortly after that I began talking seriously with the elders of the church I served about when I would step down from my position as Senior Pastor. During the almost three years that followed prior to my stepping down I read a variety of related books.
For the first year and a half after I stepped down I continued to read a great deal, but I didn’t read anything about retirement or aging. The last two weeks, however, I have read two books that have informed, challenged, and encouraged me so much I wanted to write about them.
The book I read last week is a new book I saw advertised in a Christian magazine and ordered because of the title. Written by R. Paul Stevens, Aging Matters: Finding Your Calling for the Rest of Your Life (William B. Eerdmans, 2016) gives those entering retirement much to consider. Stevens gives his foundational point when he writes, “We do not retire from our calling even if we have retired from a career” (p. 17). The word calling in the title lets readers know Stevens is writing from a Christian perspective and he relates a variety of biblical passages. He asserts “that while one chooses a career, one is chosen for a calling” (p. 32).
Aging Matters features three sections divided into 9 chapters as well as an introduction and epilogue. The three chapters in Part One (“CALLING”) deal with “Reframing Retirement,” “The Immensely Important Matter of Late-Life Calling,” and “Late-life Calling and the People of God.”
For me the most convicting and helpful part of the book was the three chapters in Part Two (“SPIRITUALITY”). In chapter four (“Aging as a Spiritual Journey)” Stevens affirms that in aging we should become deeper spiritually. Part of the journey involves avoiding “The Vices of Aging” (chapter five) and part of it includes embracing “The Virtues of Late Life” (chapter six). While the vices discussed are not in themselves unique, they do present a unique challenge to the aging. For example, pride expressed by “the refusal to learn and the refusal to take instruction” may be intensified for the older person. The same is true for envy, wrath, sloth, avarice-greed, gluttony, and lust. He does the same thing with embracing the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love relating them specifically to those who are older. (At the age of 65 I am intensely interested in becoming deeper spiritually.)
Part Three (“LEGACY”) has three chapters dealing with “Leaving a Multifaceted Legacy,” “Life Review and Life Preview,” and “The End that is the Beginning.” The chapter dealing with legacy (seven) is practical dealing with financial matters. Chapter eight presents five challenges for “Preparing for Death” and six principles for “Finishing Well.” The most striking challenge for me in preparing for death was “practice progressive relinquishment” and the most practical principle for finishing well was “practice thanksgiving day and night.” The final chapter is a biblical and theological discussion about death.
Stevens cites numerous sources and I knew as I read the book I wanted to go deeper. The first citation is a powerful quote at the beginning of the book’s introduction: “Success in retirement depends in great measure on the way we lived beforehand.” It was taken from Paul Tournier’s Learn to Grow Old (Harper & Row, 1983) and I ordered it before I finished Stevens. First published in French in 1971, Learn to Grow Old was the best of the 15 books I have read in the last five years about getting older, retirement, and aging. It was also the most challenging. Even though I read it in two days, it was not easy reading. As I read the book I noted in the front cover several passages and page numbers I want to “reread for myself.”
Since Learn to Grow Old is an older book, it is outdated in some places. Sensitive readers will object to what is now sexist language, but to disregard all the great material because of that would be a huge mistake. As might be expected from a psychiatrist, Tournier includes a lot of psychology that sheds light on what he writes. There is also a good bit of autobiography that also contributes to the overall presentation. And while he is clearly a Christian and writing from that perspective, those who are not Christians will not be “put off” by his faith. Tournier was 73 when he wrote the book and had been reading about the subjects for three or four years.
Tournier was invited by his publishers to write a book about retirement, but he goes far beyond the original assignment. Instead of chapters the book is divided into six parts that are longer than chapters in most books. Part I addresses “Work and Leisure” and how leisure will be a factor in retirement. Part II (“Towards a More Humane Society”) and Part III (“The Condition of the Old”) are primarily an overview of how “the old” are viewed and treated in society and how that needs to change in a variety of ways. Part IV is a creative discussion about finding “A Second Career” after retirement that is fulfilling and not primarily for monetary compensation. After all the years of finding validity in one’s work, Tournier suggests one must find personal value in one’s own person. He defines career in this chapter in a very broad way. Part V is about “Acceptance” and was for me the most basic and challenging part of the book. Using my own words, he writes about “positive acceptance” in terms of saying “yes” to things that we do not chose and would like to refuse. Through acceptance we grow as persons and find meaning. Having started addressing the issue of death in Part V, in Part VI he continues the discussion and raises the issue of “Faith.” Again, while Tournier writes from a Christian viewpoint his discussion about faith is not overbearing, but honest and gentle.
These two books have several things in common. At the time of writing both authors were/are in their older years. They write at least in part from their own experience. Both make it very clear that it is best if people begin to prepare for retirement long before they retire. Both emphasize the need to keep reading, learning, and growing in retirement and old age. Both stress the need for acceptance and submission with regard to the entire process of getting older, retiring, and aging. Finally, both deal practically with death in a helpful way.
As I conclude this brief survey I want to highlight eight more books I have read over the past few years dealing with these subjects. I found each of these helpful and would recommend them to those who are interested in reading more.
THREE HELPFUL BOOKS ON DEATH:
THE ART OF DYING: LIVING FULLY INTO THE LIFE TO COME BY Rob Moll (IVP Books, 2010). An excellent resource about death from a Christian perspective.
(Here is a YouTube link to a message/sermon I preached entitled “Dealing with Death” inspired by Moll’s book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG8SwFUuE-s)
OUR GREATEST GIFT: A Meditation on Dying and Caring by Henri Nouwen (HarperOne, 1994). A brief pastoral consideration of death by a well-known Roman Catholic priest.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan Books, 2014). An honest and gripping look at dying from a surgeon’s experience and perspective.
TWO HELPFUL BOOKS ON RETIREMENT:
Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life by Johann Christoph Arnold (The Plough Publishing House, 2013). A practical book about the post-retirement years from a Christian perspective.
PURPOSE and POWER IN RETIREMENT: new opportunities for meaning and significance by Harold G. Koenig, M.D. (Templeton Foundation Press, 2002). Another practical book about retirement.
THREE BOOKS ABOUT GETTING OLDER WITH A SPIRITUAL FRAMEWORK:
FINISHING OUR COURSE WITH JOY: Guidance from God for Engaging Our Aging by J.I. Packer (Crossway, 2014). A short book by a great biblical scholar, theologian, and teacher.
FALLING UPWARD: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr (Jersey-Bass, 2011). An informative read by a Franciscan priest about spiritual growth in the second half of life.
SOULS IN FULL SAIL: A CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY FOR THE LATER YEARS by Emilie Griffin (IVP Books, 2011). Another informative book for older believers by a prolific author.
Please share this post with others who may be interested in this information and reply with questions and comments below.
Readers who have specific questions or would like more information about any of these books are invited to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/90955804@N04/15553723141″>2014 – Vancouver – 3 at a Nooner</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>