From the earliest days, it was clear that COVID-19 would make a significant impact on the lives of people in their retirement years. For those relying on investments for their income, the drop in markets set off alarm bells. For those whose mental and emotional health is nourished by family visits and volunteerism, the instructions to “stay home” are deeply disheartening. For those who feel the threat of infection most acutely, the news stirs up our deepest anxieties and fears.
Yet we have been reminded too of the resilience and creativity of those who have poured their home-bound time into making phone calls, offering prayers, sewing masks, stocking foodbanks, planting gardens and filming videos for their grandkids. For many of these saints, such a response comes naturally. After all, they’ve always seen retirement as a time to use their life experience and abilities to transform the world around them and continue building God’s kingdom.
Before COVID hit Canada, Christian Courier talked to several seniors about the myths and realities of retirement and, most of all, how to do what the Lord requires with the time we’ve been given. Even though much of life has changed for these seniors, we’ve decided to share this article because of the hope and joy it still offers. May we be inspired by the ingenuity of these seniors. May we find ourselves echoing the resolution of retiree Mike Hoyer: “As long as I can do some good, I will do it.”
The retirement myth
As people grow closer to retirement age there is often a sense of excitement about the next chapter. Quite possibly for the first time, there is no expectation about where they should go or what they should do. Movies, books and magazines portray this time, this second adulthood, as a time of relaxation. A reward for a job well done. But a growing number of retirees are seeing this second adulthood differently. They’re seeing retirement as an opportunity to do a lot of hard work for God’s kingdom.
“God didn’t design us for this small retirement,” writes Hayden Shaw in Generational IQ. “While nothing is wrong with enjoying golf or vacationing in a warm climate in the winter, God didn’t give Traditionalists [those born between 1925-1945]—or any of us—more life, more money, and more health for our quality of life alone. God gave it to us to get his work done in the world.”
Matching skills to needs
This work may impact individuals, such as when John van der Kuur helped someone suffering from cancer redo their kitchen, or it may help a whole community, the way Brian Gray’s non-profit organization Play Beyond Expectations empowers young men with disabilities. This work could even take on an international scale, like it often does for Mike and Colleen Hoyer, who used to be International Relief Managers with World Renew. Each of these individuals has found ways to reshape the abilities and experiences gained throughout their working lives and continue to apply these God given gifts into their retirement.
“Everybody has a set of skills,” explained van der Kuur. “Mine were practical—building things.” And van der Kuur uses these skills all the time. Not only does he help out in his community, he has dug wells in Africa and built schools in northern Ontario.
He goes where he is needed and he considers it a privilege to do so. “We should realize everyday how privileged we are, and helping others is a privilege as well,” said van der Kuur.
Gray, who officially retired in 2012, is the founder of Play Beyond Expectations, which is an organization that works with disabled young adults who are aging out of the school system and the added supports that go with it. His belief is that these young men are capable of so much more than they and their families and caregivers realize. According to Gray, if they are given the chance to play sports they will showcase these abilities. His motto is “helping people with disabilities makes life better.”
“Starting Play Beyond Expectations was an answer to prayer. I not only didn’t want to be bored, I didn’t want to be just busy. I prayed back in 2015 that I would have one more opportunity to do something significant.” Two years after that prayer, Play Beyond Expectations became an official non-profit organization that meets a need that wasn’t being met.
“Play Beyond Expectations is actually the result of what goes on in the gym. The objective is that for every participant in every session, there’s progress. And that progress exceeds their expectations and their caregivers’ expectations. They’re doing what no one thought they could do.”
While volunteering was something van der Kuur felt compelled to do because of the way he has been so richly blessed, and it was an answer to prayer for Gray, volunteering had a very simple beginning in the Hoyer family.
“At first it was just an opportunity for him to get out and do something,” explained Colleen who retired a few years after her husband. “I was at school three days a week, and he saw this come up and it took him out of the house and kept him busy.”
Colleen joined her husband when she retired in 2006 and the month after she said goodbye to her job the two of them stepped off the plane in another country. They have not stopped since.
Words of wisdom
While it might seem thrilling to travel around the world serving God and others, Colleen Hoyer wants other seniors who are considering following in their footsteps not to romanticize mission work. Take time to study where you are going, and how your efforts will impact the community.
Once you’ve taken time to research what is available, van der Kuur has this advice for you: “Get out there and do it. You learn by doing. The experiences you have when you retire and volunteer—they’ll surprise you. They’ll be rewarding. If a person thinks that it’s a hardship, if he just gets over that and goes and does it, he realize it’s the opposite.”
As COVID-19 shakes our world to its core, it can seem impossible to volunteer right now. But phone calls to friends and those who are alone can go a long way. Some of us may enjoy making bread from scratch or building flourishing gardens. Others will have learned that a slower pace to life is exactly what God requires of them right now. As we each face our own challenges, may we remember that the gifts God gives us are malleable. Just as they can be reshaped in retirement, so too God is molding them in this moment. Against all the odds, God is using us to further his kingdom.
We want to hear from you!
Are you retired? How has God called you to continue his kingdom work after your formal employment finished? How did you adapt to the change of pace? What advice can you offer to those struggling to adapt to a difference pace of life these days? Send us your advice and stories.