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The Personal Side of Retirement

By: Jack Hansen and Jerry P. Haas

Shaping a Life of SignificanceType the keyword “retirement” into your favorite search engine and you’ll get back approximately 25 million results… about 85% of them related to your finances in retirement… you’ll get answers to questions like “How much money do I need?” “How long will it last?” What is the future of Federal retirement programs such as Social Security and Medicare?

In contrast, fewer than 2% of the results will be in any way related to the personal dimensions of life beyond full-time work. Remarkably little attention has been given to such important questions as the impact of retirement on family relationships, friendships, and sense of self-worth.  We know that such personal considerations are key determinants of satisfaction and fulfillment in every stage of life and this includes retirement.

To understand these overlooked personal dimensions of retirement, we interviewed retired men and women from around the country about their personal experiences in retirement. These interviews revealed personal transitions associated with leaving a career, unique personal opportunities afforded by retirement, and personal challenges people face as they continue to age.  Our first book, “Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement,” describes the interview process and these areas of transition, opportunity, and challenge.

Retirement as a Spiritual Pilgramage

Our newest book, “Retirement as Spiritual Pilgrimage: Stories, Scripture, and Practices for the Journey,” brings a spiritual perspective to each of these transitions, opportunities, and challenges. Each topic is introduced by one or two first-person accounts by retirees. Then, the wisdom of Scripture for this theme is explored. And finally, a spiritual practice is suggested that helps us thrive in this particular transition, opportunity, or challenge.

For instance, one transition frequently experienced in leaving full-time work for retirement is a journey from a larger to a smaller world of influence, authority, or recognition.  In the chapter devoted to Living with Meaning in a Smaller World, we explore a secondary school teacher’s personal struggle in leaving behind her opportunity to influence high school students as she retires. Then we look at individuals in the Bible who shift from a larger to a smaller world. For instance, Moses goes from the house of Pharaoh to tending sheep in the desert.  And Paul’s early life as a Christian takes him from respected rabbi in Israel to relative solitude in Arabia and Damascus. And finally, we examine the spiritual practice of letting go of roles we once had as part of our own personal journey from work to retirement.

The book, “Retirement as Spiritual Pilgrimage: Stories, Scripture, and Practices for the Journey” is designed for either individual use or small groups in churches. The book offers questions for personal and group reflection and includes suggested outlines for both small-group and adult Sunday school series.

Both books are available from Amazon, and “Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement” can also be ordered directly from Upper Room Books.

About the Authors:

Jack Hansen is mostly retired from a career in research and research leadership. He still works part-time for the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition and consults for the NASA Ames Research Center. He became particularly interested in the personal dimensions of transition from full-time work as he was making his own transition. He and his wife, Pat, reside in Greenville, South Carolina.

Jerry P. Haas pastored churches in California and Arizona for twenty-five years before moving to Nashville, Tennessee, to work in retreat and spiritual formation ministries with The Upper Room. His wife, Donna, is a psychotherapist in private practice.