Is there a line we cross between making reasonable preparations for retirement and—obsessing over it?
Maybe I should back up a bit by hatching definitions of “reasonable preparations” and “obsessing”. By reasonable preparations, I mean setting aside only as much as you can comfortably afford to, then trusting the outcome to God. By obsessing, I mean chasing a predetermined number and believing that the ultimate success of your life hangs in the balance.
What are some signs that indicate that, as Christians, we might be obsessing on retirement planning?
Assuming A Level Of Certainty About The Future That Can’t Be Known
Retirement planning relies heavily on conventions, starting with an assumed rate of return on investment. This single convention is commonly expressed as some number between six percent and ten percent, and is based on the historical rate of return on a portfolio invested in the stock market over many years.
But somewhere along the line, the idea that this assumption is anything more than a convention has fallen by the wayside and been replaced by a presumption of certainty as to how much you can expect to earn on your investments.
There’s no arguing on what the stock market has done in the past—the problem is in assuming that it will behave in the same way in the future as though it’s some kind of cosmic certainty.
What does Scripture tell us about assumptions of certainty? In James 4:13-14 we read:
”Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (NIV)
This verse doesn’t tell us that we shouldn’t prepare for the future, but it clearly warns to avoid having any notion of certainty about how events will play out.
Obsessing On The Future And Ignoring Today
Sometimes we can become so caught up in planning the perfect future that the present can get lost as we do. While we’re preparing for a distant retirement all kinds of things are playing out today. It’s not that we shouldn’t prepare for the future, we should. But at the same time we have to be careful that we aren’t prioritizing retirement—the future—over the present.
We can become so obsessed with that future that we might forego helping the poor, witnessing to an unbelieving world, and building up other believers under the assumption that we’ll have time and money for all of that later—when we’re retired.
Retirement—Or A Run For Riches
If you follow the financial media, in order to have the kind of retirement you should desire, you’ll need to have X millions of dollars by the time you retire. That would make you a millionaire! You’d be rich by most standards.
Statistically—barring a runaway inflation—the vast majority of people won’t be millionaires, even by retirement. I think most of us know this. But since retirement is considered a virtue in the modern world, it can quietly turn getting rich into an imperative. We might chase wealth with the conviction of a recent convert, always telling ourselves that we’re merely “working to provide a secure retirement” for ourselves.[Does God want us to pray for money? <—Join the discussion]
We’re all human, and as such some of our greatest sins are the ones we don’t ever think of as sins. Yes, even retirement planning can become a sin if we take it too far.[Is it a sin to be rich? Find out what the bible says]
Retirement As A False Idol
If we become obsessed with retirement, i.e., I have to have X amount of dollars saved by date Y,we may be constructing a false idol. It’s not that having goals is a bad thing, but that believing our future security hangs on meeting that goal comes dangerously close.
It can become an idol when it detracts from something else that we need to be doing…
Trusting In God
Do you ever find it at all curious that even when you’ve experienced failure in life, when you haven’t reached your goals or when you were certain you were looking down the road to a date with doom, that somehow…you survived it?
Do you think that all of those episodes were just happy coincidences?
We don’t need to achieve perfection in life. If we fall short of our goals, God will be there to provide for us. That’s’ something we need to believe in. If we ever think that we’ll be doomed because our retirement savings are inadequate, we’re probably elevating retirement to the level of an obsession.
Here’s the thing, God may not even want you to retire! Instead of money, he may provide you with excellent health, well into old age, that will enable you to continue working until the end of your life. You may decide that you don’t want to retire. God may want you to do the job your doing—or some other kind of work—because He’s working through you as you do.[Does hard work reveal misplaced faith? <—Share your thoughts.]
We can’t know what God has planned for us, but we need to leave room for it.
Finding Balance—Making Reasonable Provisions For Retirement
OK, I’ve been beating up on retirement planning, but am I suggesting that you shouldn’t do it? Not at all! My point is that we shouldn’t obsess on it. Much of the world is telling us to do just that, and when the world starts shouting too loudly we should be on our guard.
The world is showing us slick looking charts, graphs and projections to tell us how easy it will be for us to become millionaires and to retire in splendid isolation. It’s all over TV, the web and even the print media. It’s called advertising. There’s big money in the retirement planning industry, and that’s why so many companies are willing to pay for that advertising.
In the end however, the retirement planning industry can promise us nothing—they can only give us projections. Projections are not worth obsessing over! They may happen, but they may not.
And if not, what are reasonable provisions for retirement?
Save some money for retirement, pay off your debts, live beneath your means, choose a career that you can do for your entire life—and trust God for the outcome. Only He, and He alone, can guarantee us anything.
Photo by Stephen Klein