May 1, 2014

Faith and Retirement

I have wanted to write a bit more about spirituality and retirement for awhile and thought now was the time. As I noted in the post about having necessary retirement skills, I guess that it is natural considering that we have less road ahead of us than behind. Thoughts of what all this might mean and where we are headed become more frequent.

The turn toward faith or some form of spirituality doesn't necessarily mean organized religion. As our culture becomes more secular and more segmented, the number of people who claim to be religious remains high (somewhere around 80%), but attendance at church services seems to decline every year. The latest poll figures I could find report less than 20% attend services regularly. At the same time overall interest in spiritual approaches seems to be growing.

I have mentioned before that my religious faith is an important part of my life. To support the possibility that the importance of faith increases as we age, I will share just a bit of my story which points directly to this occurrence.

Raised in a Christian home, I dutifully went to Sunday School while my parents sang in the choir. That was the extent of the expression of faith in our household. Religion was kept in a neat little box that was taken down from the shelf on Sunday morning and put back by 11am for another week. Faith was just not something I ever thought about. My little league games and my paper route were much more real and important to me.

That "faith in name only" continued until my mid 50's, about 3 years after I stopped working. Then, something started to stir in me, something that was telling me I was missing something important. Long story short, a change to a different church suddenly made me painfully aware that I had been living a lie. Up to that point my faith was just a convenient, expected part of my life as a middle class American, but in no way real and in no way affecting how I lived my life.

At that point, it was as if a fire had been lit inside me. I realized all the years I had wasted thinking I was a believer in a very real God. I realized I knew nothing but wanted to know everything. An intense period of Bible studies, reading all I could get my hands on, small group membership, and a hunger to go to the service each Sunday to hear more began. It continues to this day.

Did this realization happen as I moved through my 50's and now into my mid 60's because I began to grasp my mortality? I don't know. Was my openness to the message due to a feeling of an incompleteness in the life I had led to that point? I don't know. Did God break through my shell of flawed humanness? I don't know.  What I do know is the faith that I found is real to me, and it happened a few years after I retired.

So, how do I explain my faith in a world that "worships" only what it can see, taste, touch, and control? I can't. That's sort of the point: if it could be proven then it wouldn't be faith.

I will be the first to admit I may be wrong. I may believe in something that isn't real. I may be just kidding myself so I can feel better about the fact that a human life is short and then ends with no one remembering you within a generation.

But, I choose to believe that my beliefs are real. I see too many evidences of my changed life and an incredibly complex world that could not have possibly been created by chance. Regular readers have often commented on the generally positive attitude of this blog and my encouragement for those beginning the retirement journey.

I choose to believe that my faith is what causes that attitude and that positive outlook. If you have been turned off by religion, find it odd to believe in something that can't be proven, and think I am way off the mark, I understand.

I was there less than ten years ago. Thank, God, I am not anymore.


35 comments:

  1. Great personal testimony Bob. You and I share many of the same experiences and views. Having trust and faith in the creator and being religious are often not the same thing. Like you, it took me a while to heartfully understand that. Another big part of this epiphany is that it is not our place to judge others in this regard. We must leave that up to higher powers. Once we shed our urge to wag our finger, or sometimes even worse, at those who believe differently than we do we can concentrate on loving others as our life's purpose. That very fact does make for a very satisfying retirement doesn't it?

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    1. My "job" is to live my life with a changed heart and serve others. God's "job" is to do the actual saving. Understanding that takes away a lot of the desire to judge and "wag the finger," a technique that rarely works.

      Thanks for your thoughts, RJ.

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  2. I think all of us at one time or another question our faith in God. Fortunately for me it only lasts for seconds when it occurs, since like yourself I have seen too many evidences of His presence to discount it as some sort of coincidence. My younger age was similar to your own experiences regarding faith, but I came to make a change earlier,in my mid-20s, and have followed His path ever since to the best of my abilities.

    I guess whether you come to a spiritual realization at a younger age or an older doesn't really matter as much as actually coming to that crossroads. I am glad to see you reached it as well, and take great comfort from it. It does seem to be increasingly hard for many in today's world to do so, so testimonials like your own do more good than you might imagine. Keep up the great work, Bob.

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    1. Thanks, Chuck. Our society trends to discount what humans can't control or understand, and that is unfortunate. I was there for the longest time so I can certainly relate.

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  3. i am impressed that you have tackled the "touchy - feely" side of life and living. As I have gotten older - so many things have changed that it is just plain hard to keep up. I asked my 100 year old Grandmother what was the hardest thing for her during her long life. She was born the year the Statue of Liberty was dedicated and was still around for the re-dedication a hundred years later. THAT MUCH LIVING IS PAINFUL FOR ME TO EVEN THINK ABOUT. She said, "Lewis R. there has been way too much change in my life time. I just couldn't keep up anymore."

    If... it was tough for Grandma Jessie---I suspect it is going to be even "tougher" for us. The rate of change is off the chart. And as I have aged--I have found myself being less and less relevant to the whole picture. So...like my grandma--I have a "garden of delights" that I play in and take care of and savor now. My family--my friends--the things I love doing are my savoring part of growing old. And I plan on continuing to "play and explore" with what precious time I have left. Our "faith in the fact" that everything works out---and that we each have something great to "do" every day sure helps me. Paul Newman said that each morning as he got old meant that if he was "still here" God had something more for him to "do" and he got up and went out to "do" what he could with that precious gift. I try to do that same thing and "faith" helps me do it. Good thoughtful comment again Bob.

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    1. I believe I am here on earth for a reason and I have some thing(s) I am meant to accomplish. Since I really don't know what those things are, the only course of action is to keep my eyes and ears open and do what I think is correct.

      I don't think we have to keep up with all the changes, but we should not judge something new we don't understand.

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  4. Funny, I recently wrote about childhood experiences with the radical religious part of my family. Turned me off of religion for decades! My husband's family was more like yours. You went to church, but it was not something that affected much of your day to day life. His cancer brought us back to spirituality. He needs more structure than I do, but we both agree there is something out there bigger than ourselves.
    b

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    1. Admitting we aren't the center of the universe is a major step in maturity, If someone has a problem with that viewpoint, stand outside at night and look at the thousands of stars, which are just a tiny fraction of those actually out there. We are amazingly small by comparison.

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  5. You have frequently made reference to your faith in your blog...so I was curious. Thanks for sharing some of the details. How different it is to face the end of life with an eternal hope, in contrast to those who don't have that same assurance.

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    1. It means the difference between thinking that death marks the total end, to a faith that death is simply a transition to the next, and greater phase of existence. As you note, Larry, it makes a life-changing difference.

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  6. Finding a relevant and dynamic church community can be a challenge! I enjoy Science of Mind, Unity and Unitarian universalist churches, for their open minded interpretation of spirituality.Up here in Pine, not much in that vein.I was raised Catholic (and metaphysical,all at once!) and while I do not agree with a lot of the dogma, I find peace with the rituals and sacraments and the Mass,so I am joining the Catholic church up here. I have to keep some of my more esoteric beliefs to myself but I can find a lot of Spirit in the Mass and I want the opportunity to have a faith community and a chance to do some volunteer work. I have a monthly New Moon gathering at my home for like minded souls to discuss spirituality from other perspectives, and to support our goals and thoughts for the upcoming month.. Astrology and tarot were important spiritual tools in my family,growing up.Yes,I have a very broad and interesting spiritual background.. I believe in just about every God/Goddess!! I find that God is everywhere, and the Golden Rule is the thread of all faiths!

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    1. Very interesting, Madeline. Not that you are about to move but you would find the mix of mainstream religion and spirituality approaches in Portland, Oregon very much to your liking! That city seems quite open to the full range of interpretations of an ultimate power.

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  7. My father was a pastor, so I was brought up in the church. When I left home, I stopped going to church, because I could (not an option at home). In my thirties, I began searching for what I believed, not what my parents believed, or what someone told me I should believe. I researched and soul searched and came to find what I belived in, which included what my parents believe, but more. I have been in and out of churches at different times of my life. My father was a wonderful pastor, and unfortunately for years I have not attented church because no church could meet my high expectations. Recently, I have been feeling the desire to find a church again, not so much for inspiration (I know what I believe), but because I want to sing in the choir whch I used to love, and have a desire to be part of a church family again. Not sure where this will lead me.

    I have an extremely strong faith and know that God is a part of everyting.

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    1. A church is a collection of believers, and because they are human beings all such organizations have strengths and weaknesses. Looking for perfection will just drive you nuts and keep you away from personal growth and spiritual connection.

      I'm glad you are ready to take another shot at finding something for you. Your faith needs regular feeding to stay healthy.

      God bless, Donnine

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    2. Donnine - Your comments makes me think of my minister; he was a PK as well, and ended up following in his father's footsteps. In his mid-30s to mid-40s, he became increasingly disillusioned with church, and almost thought of leaving. Instead, he decided to push himself further into theology, rather than walk away from it. Fortunately, he was with a congregation who were very open to his exploration - they gave him leave to go to Columbia and do his PhD. There, he studied with people like Walter Brueggemann. What an extraordinary minister he became, as a result! I hung around his congregation for about a decade, joining Bible study groups. Doing Bible study with him was like having a conversion experience, every time. His ability to help people understand and relate to the biblical story - as a result of his very profound knowledge - is almost unique in the denomination I am in. Sadly, he developed cancer, and I finally joined his congregation at that time, about 2 years ago. On a more upbeat note, although he has a form of cancer that is not curable, he is doing OK right now. He is retiring (early) in a year, and I am part of the group that is supposed to find his replacement. I can't imagine how we will do that. Still, he has been an incredible gift to those who have the privilege of being around him.

      (As for retirement myself, I am retiring December 31 of this year and can hardly hang on til then. I work in a high-stress, high-demand job and am EXHAUSTED.)

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  8. So far, I am quite encouraged with the positive comments and civil tone of the discussion. I have had one cancellation of my blog's subscription so far because of this post - I expected more.

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  9. Thank you for being brave and tackling this subject. I am a Christian- some would say radically conservative but that is a matter of perspective, isn't it?- and I could not and would not want to live one minute without Jesus.

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    1. Too often labels separate us when the goal is to bond together. Thanks, Jeff, for your comment.

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  10. I, too, have found my faith deepening as I age. I once heard a television evangelist say...paraphrasing...I do believe in God and let Him guide my life.....some believe I am wrong....I will continue to believe and if I am wrong, I have had a good life because of my beliefs and my God.....so it is a win-win no matter what.
    I, personally, am so strengthened by my faith and can't imagine not having God hold my hand daily. But my life sure hasn't always shown that faith. Thank goodness for a loving and forgivng God!

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    1. Sometimes I joke to others in the same manner as you, Linda. If I am wrong in my faith I will be dead and I won't know the difference. But, even then, my life up to that point will have been enriched by my beliefs.

      I don't think that will be the outcome. I have seen too many instances of God's power in my life.

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  11. I think addressing spiritual concerns is a very important part of retirement, and life itself.I am shocked anyone would cancel! I applaud your willingness to talk about all the topics that we human beings think about,Bob.. not just the 'easy" ones!!

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    1. Actually, I expected more negatives. But, they don't matter. This blog is an expression of me, so those who don't like something I write are free to go. It isn't going to change what I post.

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  12. As Deepak Chopra says, there's the known, the unknown and the unknowable. I know there's some "higher power", call that "God" if you want. All I have to do is look to nature, my Church of the long grass, to know that there's a divine order to this world. I'm a believer even though I don't go to formal church. I believe in everlasting life, the everlasting soul, and trust that I will be ok no matter what, because of this belief.

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    1. Our world could not have happened by chance. Some ultimate power must have been involved. My faith allows me to believe that power has my best long term interests in mind, no matter what happens on earth.

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  13. I am a Christian (although I think there are many paths to God) , but I will admit that it can be a challenge to accept the Christian faith intellectually. This is probably why so many lose their faith in college. As we get older (and wiser?) we realize that you do not have to take something literally in order for it to have profound meaning for you. OK so I don't think the earth was created in 6 days and I don't think Noah was superman, but God is our creator , God's grace is real and Jesus showed us the way. And once you open that door a little bit and let that little bit of faith work in your life, you gain so much that you long for more.But I agree with you, our calling is to try to lead a Christlike life and let God do the rest.

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    1. One cannot accept faith intellectually. As someone (C.S. Lewis?) once said, If man can fully understand God, then he isn't much of a god.

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  14. Well, as a happy agnostic I have to chime in. I believe it is possible to live a life of wonder, service, and contentment without any specific doctrine or belief. I do not begrudge others to believe otherwise. I live in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson who said:

    "But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

    Despite 16 years of Lutheran church, I find myself here--uncertain and fine with that fact. The quest continues.

    What many of you have expressed is the famous "wager" of Blaise Pascal. He chose to believe because of the odds of the gamble. Google "Pascal's Wager" if you are not familiar with it.

    I am here, now. When I die I will go back to where I was before I was born, which will be somewhere, everywhere or nowhere. Until then it is important that I be present, live my life to its fullest potential and be ready to help others do the same.

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    1. Basically, live and let live. Like you, Rick, I do not begrudge others' beliefs (or non beliefs). I am no one's judge. Too many problems in our world are caused by those who think their job is to enforce their perception of the "truth."

      I will be more than happy to discuss my faith with anyone at any time, but to force it on them? Not going to happen. Not going to do any good.

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  15. Similar to Rick above, I grew up in a household that practiced a structured religion. In my opinion however, that household didn't live it, and I was subsequently repelled by all religion for years. As I moved into my 40's however, I began to search for something that would have value to me, and I eventually found my way to some spiritual authors that showed me how to open my own door and find my own unique way back to a place of peace. I've continued my solo spiritual journey ever since, and while I can appreciate some of the tenets of organized religion, in the aggregate it simply doesn't speak to me the way my own quiet journeying has.

    I feel closest that which I don't understand when I'm out in glorious nature. The world reorders itself, and I almost always emerge feeling reborn. One of my favorite quotes by John Muir is "I'd rather be in the mountains thinking of God, than in church thinking about the mountains."

    I shudder at attempts to force all people to believe in one manner. To me that is the antithesis of what spirituality is at it's very core.

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    1. Organized religion is often its own worst enemy. Like any bureaucracy there is the tendency to protect the status quo and consolidate power.

      Jesus did not come to earth to start a religion. I'm pretty sure he is not happy with what is being done in his name. And, I venture to guess that same comment could apply to other religions that place control over faith.

      The church Betty and I attend is non-denominational. To us that is important: it isn't beholding to a national office somewhere that can get caught up in politics.

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  16. I believe there is a difference between practice of faith and practice of religion. One can do either without the other. Although my parents were every Sunday people. my father practiced our religion with his faith intertwined. He is still my example. My religion gives me the way to gain community and structure to serve others in a more profound way (for me), which is the outward sign of my faith.
    There is a saying that religion is passed through the mother. My sibs all received my mother's religion which had very little faith inside of it (in her practice). I am glad I got both- faith and religion.
    I, too, believe there are many paths to the Almighty. Some may never see a path. As long as people are aware that they need to help others in this world, then I feel they will be fine in the end.

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    1. Wikipedia has an interesting explanation of the difference between religion and faith. It says religion is doing something religiously while faith is believing.

      That makes sense. The former is a structure built around faith, but faith must come first if religion is to have any meaning.

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  17. Thank God is right Bob. There is no way I could get through each day at a job that just pays my bills without my faith. I always believe things will work out even in the darkest of times. I know that someday I'll be in charge of my life again. This time is just preparation for the wonderful times to come. You gotta crawl before the walk...my knees sure do hurt.

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    1. We grow the most through hard times with patience and perseverance holding us together. That said, I certainly wish it weren't true. Your aching knees probably agree.

      I believe God has an ultimate plan for my life, but it would make things a whole lot easier if I knew what it was.

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  18. Very inspiring, thanks for sharing. At the age of retirement, most people find time to reflect on a lot of things. I must say that this is a period to establish stronger faith to be able to make the most of the remaining years in life.

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