LOOKING AHEAD

At the age of 61, and two years before I stepped down from the church I served as pastor for 30 years, I began reading about retirement and aging. In the last five years I have read numerous books and articles about these subjects. In this post I want to recommend in some ways the best book I have read so far. I am recommending it to those who are retired and aging, those who hope to retire in the future, and those who know and love relatives and friends who are retired and aging. The title of the book is The Back Nine: Life Beyond Retirement by Doug Manning.

Readers do not have to understand the golf metaphor in the title The Back Nine to appreciate the book’s content; it’s about Life Beyond Retirement and much more. While Christians are not to worry about tomorrow (see Matthew 6:25-34) or boast about it (James 4:13-16), that does not mean we should not look ahead. Manning has much to offer to those giving consideration to the challenges and opportunities that retirement and aging bring.

There is a lot I like in this book, not the least of which is its brevity.  It is divided into three sections comprised of 14 short chapters, and is only 100 pages. It is by far the shortest book I have read on the subject. It is also personal, practical, and real. Manning knows what he is talking about as he writes with the voice of experience. In his eighties, he is semi-retired, a widower, color blind, and almost blind as well. He asks that readers pardon his personal illustrations, but he adds “I have no other way of explaining what I mean” (p. 20). Later in the book he tells us “my opinion is just one man’s opinion and should be looked at as just that” (p. 55).

Manning doesn’t write in theory, but about reality. And that reality got this 65 year old reader’s attention. For example, in the introduction he acknowledges “My greatest dread is not death, it is living too long and living beyond my ability to not be a burden” (p. 13). Some of what he relates sounds pessimistic and almost depressing. He defines aging as “the slow process of losing people, things, health, significance, purpose, position and most of all what we hold dear in life” and acknowledges that  “those losses hurt” (p. 17).

One of the most practical suggestions Manning offers deals with avoiding war between “aging parents” and “caring children.” In chapter two, he challenges parents to “change the relationship long before the care giving is needed” (p.24). And while it is not easy or quickly done, he thinks “the most important thing we can do . . . is build an adult to-adult relationship with our kids” (p. 24). I think it is unrealistic to think a parent can ever stop being one, but I certainly agree with the need for a changed relationship as children become adults.

Other chapters include practical and real discussions about legal issues, relocation, death of a spouse, living alone, and funerals.

The final two chapters in Section III continue the practical discussion, but also are positive and encouraging. Chapter 13 cautions “It is very easy for us to grow more and more self-absorbed as we age” (p. 87) and challenges us to live in the now by listening to others. In chapter 14, Manning calls us in our final years to rid ourselves of our anger and grudges, limit our limitations, embrace technology, cultivate gratitude, and to keep growing and loving.

Taking about gratitude, Manning tells about a friend who was diagnosed with an untreatable form of cancer. He went to visit him “to give comfort and perhaps some perspective or some answers to his questions.” When Manning arrived, his friend told him, “I have been so blessed in my life, if God heard me complain He would throw up” (p. 95). Manning notes, “I am convinced that gratitude is the thing that ties a knot we can cling to when we reach the end of our ropes” (p. 96).

I’ll be 66 next month and am resolved to continue growing and loving, as well as cultivating and expressing gratitude. How about you?

Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this review on Facebook.

The Back Nine: Life Beyond Retirement is available at InSightBooks.com or amazon.com

(If you are interested, here are links to my two previous posts about this topic: https://bobmmink.com/2016/07/13/getting-older-retirement-and-aging/ and https://bobmmink.com/2016/08/09/more-on-getting-older-and-aging/.)

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MORE ON GETTING OLDER AND AGING

A few weeks ago I wrote a post in which I commented on several books that deal with getting older, retirement, and aging. If you did not read that post, or would like to review it, here is the link https://bobmmink.com/2016/07/13/getting-older-retirement-and-aging/ .

After I wrote that post I ordered a book highly recommended by R. Paul Stevens (author of Aging Matters). Written by Eugene C. Bianchi and originally published in 1982, the title Aging as a Spiritual Journey captured my attention. I would not say this book is better than either Stevens’ Aging Matters or Tournier’s Learn to Grow Old, but I did want to give a report on it as well as share a few salient quotes.

Aging as a Spiritual Journey has six chapters dealing with the two stages of midlife and elderhood. Chapter one is about the challenges of midlife, chapter two about the potentials of midlife, and chapter three discusses reflections from interviews about midlife. Chapter four is about the challenges of elderhood, chapter five about the potentials of elderhood, and chapter six discusses reflections from interviews about elderhood.

The author broadly defines midlife as the life span from about forty to sixty years of age and elderhood as beginning after age 60. Bianchi’s basic premise is that “middle and late adulthood present opportunities for combining the physical descent or gradual organic diminution with a spiritual ascent” (p. 7). At the age of 65 I don’t feel as though I have reached old age, but I think there is much for us to glean from his observations about both the challenges as well as potentials of midlife and elderhood no matter one’s current age.

I am not necessarily recommending you get and read the book, but I hope what follows will give readers something to think about. For those who are interested in this subject and the issues, this book, as well as the ones previously mentioned, all have a contribution to make.

Selected quotes from Aging as a Spiritual Journey by Eugene C. Bianchi:

“. . . the central issue of middle age is the loss of youth . . .”

“Too often in the aging process we settle for reminiscing rather than creating new memories.”

“For many persons in midlife, therefore, basic self-identity is called into question.”

“Those who cling to the dreams of youth against the reality of midlife tend to lull themselves into a life of illusion. . . .  They miss, therefore, taking advantage of the unique opportunity that midlife offers for deeper growth.”

“It is important to consider the matter of flexibility, because midlife is also the time when many persons become more rigid in their attitudes.”

“Midlife transitions provide the opportunity to move intimate relationships and friendships to deeper levels.”

“For deeper spiritual development the aging need to confront their true feelings about their physical decline.”

“The sometimes unique problems of elderhood are also fraught with potential for growth in spiritual life.”

“For many persons, old age is a time for experiencing losses and diminishments that deep affect basic self-image.”

“Changes in economic and social structures significantly affect the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of the elderly.”

“While everyone experiences some loneliness at any age, we do not give sufficient attention to the social factors that accentuate an especially acute loneliness for the old.”

“As grandparents, the elderly fulfill an important role for future generations. . . .  In the best situations, grandparents become models for meeting life’s problems with grace, wisdom, and courage.”

“The mere state of being elderly confers no special wisdom or talent.”

“A primary task for older people is to divest themselves of negative stereotypes of what it means to be old.”

“. . . for the elderly self to sustain its dignity in a profound way, the issue of death must be faced.”

“. . . growth through diminishment, based on a willingness to encounter the inner demons of old age with faith, can lead to authentic joy even amid hardships.”

“A final task of elderhood consists of finding healing and forgiveness by reviewing one’s life and preparing proximately for death.”

Leave a reply or ask a question below and/or share this report on social media if you think others would benefit.

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GETTING OLDER, RETIREMENT, AND AGING

(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 bobmmink@gmail.com.

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ON TURNING 65

Today I turn 65; and in all honesty I don’t find it unsettling at all. Since I have known it was coming it doesn’t take me by surprise. I went on Medicare March 1 (although I haven’t used it yet) and began taking social security last year. Here are some of my thoughts as I come to this milestone.

I DON’T FEEL OR ACT OLD

Of course I realize I am not 40, 50, or even 60; but I don’t really feel that old. My health is pretty good and I remain active regularly playing golf and going to the Fitness Center two or three times a week. It can be embarrassing to my family, but I don’t act old either. If you could see me playing with my grandsons (ages 6 and 2) or be in one of the classes I teach at Hope International University you would agree I don’t act old. My wife and daughter sometimes chastise me, and I do periodically have to remind myself I am a professor, but I want to have fun and be fun.

I’m 65 and on Medicare, but I don’t feel or act old.

I’M NOT FINISHED GROWING

In terms of continuing to learn and spiritually mature I am still making progress. I still read a lot of books, magazines, and online newsletters. Teaching History and Literature of Ancient Israel at Hope has been a real plus. Most of my graduate work was in New Testament and teaching this course has made the Old Testament more interesting and important to me.

Since I am no longer regularly preparing to preach, my Bible reading has become more meaningful and rewarding. In connection with my Bible reading I still often consult commentaries to see what others have to say, but I’m applying what I read to my own life more than ever before. And the devotional books I read not only challenge my thinking, but also the way I live as a follower of Jesus.

I’m 65 and sort of retired, but I’m not finished growing.

I’M NOT THROUGH BEING USED

I was a youth minister or pastor for 44 years before I stepped down after 30 years at my last church in October of 2014. But that does not mean God is no longer using me in His service. Being an adjunct professor of biblical studies gives me a great opportunity to impact and influence first year college students. I also get to “guest” preach some Sundays. And I continue to write as well. As you may or may not know, I have published two books in the last year. (A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters and Questioning Jesus: Considering His Responses are both available on amazon.com.) And I view this blog as a ministry to those who read it.

I’m 65 and no longer serving a local church, but God has not stopped using me.

I’M MORE IN LOVE THAN I’VE EVER BEEN

Two of the greatest blessings and joys in my life are my two grandsons. Only readers who are grandparents can identify with my love for them. In many respects I think I love my two grown children, Audrey and Rob, more than I ever had. And I know I love my wife Jan of almost 42 years more this year than I did last year.

The reality is I’m in several long term committed relationships. In addition to my marriage, I am also in a long term committed relationship with the Bible, the Church, and the Lord. I love the Bible, the Church, and the Lord more than ever. The only real downside of having stepped down from my church several months ago is that we haven’t yet plugged in where we love and are loved by a church family. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the church at large as well as the local church.

I’m 65, but am more in love now that I’ve ever been.

I’M THANKFUL FOR THE PAST AND LOOK FORWARD TO THE FUTURE

I guess 65 is one of those special birthdays like 13, 18, 21, 40, and 50. With the first four most people look forward and with 50 and beyond I guess many people look back. As I turn 65 I am looking both back and forward. As I look back I am filled with gratitude. And as I look forward I have a sense of anticipation.

I’m 65 and don’t know what the future holds, but I am thankful and excited.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to make comments below and share this post on social media.

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