Recently I have been noticing in newspapers and money magazines that many people want to retire early. Forget about retiring at age 65. One couple, in their mid-’30s, wants to retire by age 50. Another couple has set 57 as their retirement age. Many people who work for government will retire by age 60, if not sooner. One report from California suggests some state employees may retire at age 52. All seem to be highly talented, healthy people who make a good living and live a good life-yet they would rather live on their personal savings and investments, supplemented by pensions, medical insurance and other benefits, than work.
In Susan Jacoby’s excellent book about aging, Never Say Die, she describes the life circumstances of 58-year-old Joe Mancini, who works for an electronics distributor. He had hoped to retire at age 60 but, because his retirement savings account was devastated by the 2008 crash, he “can’t put a date on [his retirement] now.”
Susan Jacoby comments, “I don’t have much sympathy for the Joe Mancinis of the boomer generation, because I see no reason why anyone who hopes to live well into his eighties should feel entitled to retire at sixty.”
She has a point. After all, if you make it to 60, you likely have about 25 years of life remaining. As I used to tell the retirees in my parish in San Diego, how much golf can you play? If retirement means you end up doing nothing with your life except hitting a little white ball and taking cruises, then what a terrible waste! No wonder that there isn’t any word for retirement in the Bible.
When Mother Teresa had a heart attack in her late ’70s and was recuperating in the hospital, a doctor said to her, “Mother, you really should take it easy and retire.” To which Mother Teresa replied, “I’ll retire in heaven. While I live on earth I still have work to do.”
I like that attitude. God has given us only one life-and he expects us to use it for some greater good while on earth.
Think of it this way: you and I have been given a gold coin, which is our life. We can do anything we want with this coin. We can spend it. We can save it. We can invest it. At some point, however, we will have to give an account for this coin and what we did with it. Did we waste it? Did we use it wisely? Did we do some good with it? Did we spend it only on ourselves? Yes, it’s our coin, our life, but someday we will have to give an account for it.
In The Parable of the Talents, Jesus tells of a wealthy landowner who was about to go away on a trip (Matthew 25: 14−30). Since the landowner would be gone for a long time, he decided to put his staff in charge of everything he owned. Before he left, he presented one of his servants with the unbelievable sum of five talents. To another, he gave two talents, and to a third, he gave one talent. The servants weren’t given any instructions on what to do with the talents or when exactly the landowner would return.
A talent was a tremendous amount of money. It represented the earnings of 20 or more years for the average worker. The servant, who had been given five talents, held in his possession the earnings of five persons’ lifetimes. The servant who had been given two talents possessed the earnings of two lifetimes. Even the servant who had been given one talent had an enormous sum of money.
Immediately after the landowner left on his trip, the first two servants went to work. The one with five talents and the one with two talents soon doubled their master’s money. The servant with the one talent, however, went off and buried the money in the ground.
After a long time, the master unexpectedly returned and called the three servants to give an account on how each had used the talents entrusted to him.
The servant with the one talent didn’t have as much as the servant with five talents, but he had all he needed. If he had not buried his talent in the ground, he could have done great things with it.
Here is a life-changing truth: God has given us all that we need! None of us are without talent. All of us are gifted. The sad thing is that often we don’t appreciate the talents we have.
Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner revolutionized the study of intelligence. He argues that our study of I.Q. is all wrong. Intelligence tests measure only one or two forms of intelligence.
Gardner says there are actually seven forms of intelligence. Some people are gifted with linguistic intelligence-these are writers and poets. Others have what he calls logical/mathematical intelligence-they make good accountants and scientists. Some people are gifted spatially-these are our artists and architects. Some are gifted kinesthetically-they tend to be fine athletes and dancers. Some are gifted interpersonally-they know instinctively how to get along with other people around them. These are our salespersons, teachers, politicians and clergy. Some are gifted in their ability to look within-these are our philosophers, theologians and spiritual directors, our wise people. And some are gifted musically-they sing and play instruments.
Here’s the important point: Gardner claims that everyone he has ever tested scored high on at least one of these seven forms of intelligence.
All of us are gifted in our own way and may be smarter than we think we are. Don’t you wish someone had told you that a long time ago? Do tell your children and grandchildren, please. Many of them may go through life thinking they are less than smart because their form of intelligence is not valued in school.
But the truth is: all of us are gifted. All of us have what we need to succeed. God has created us differently so that different tasks will get done in the world. But all of us have a place where we fit in. We all have the talent we need to succeed in life.
How do we discover our talent? By asking ourselves, “When do I feel most fulfilled, when do I have deep inner satisfaction that tells me I am expressing my abilities?” Is it when I am around small children? Is it when I am making a presentation to a group or giving a speech? Is it when I am playing music or singing a song or painting a picture? Is it when I am working on a project that I feel energy surge within me? Usually, we know our talent by what we like to do and what we do best.
The key to happiness is to discover your talent, develop it fully and use it wisely to the glory of God and the benefit of humanity. In other words, it isn’t enough to use your talent for yourself. Talent, if it is to be truly fulfilling, rewarding and satisfying, needs to be directed to God and other people. We make the world a better place by our living in it. We alleviate suffering. We respond to human need. We do some greater good. We further the kingdom of God here on earth.
James Galway is perhaps the greatest flute-player in the world. Once, after playing a concert in Switzerland, he was walking a short distance with friends to a restaurant when a motorcycle veered around the corner and ran into him. He was seriously injured and taken to hospital. Both his legs were broken and one arm. Because the bones were not knitting properly, he had to remain in the hospital for months.
It was a long time before James Galway was able to play in public again. He thought perhaps that he would never be able to play. As he spent day after day considering what he had almost lost, he decided that if he ever regained his talent, he would dedicate it to the glory of God.
“I decided that henceforth I would play every concert, cut every record, and give every TV performance as if it were my last,” James writes in his autobiography. “The important thing is to make sure that every time I play the flute my performance will be as near perfection as God intended when he gave me the talent.”
Some of us may know of Gian Carlo Menotti. He was one of the most prolific composers of operas and musical scores in the 20th century. Among his many works is the beloved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. Menotti, reflecting on why he worked so hard and put so much energy into his work, said, “Hell begins when God grants us a clear vision of all that we might have achieved, of all the gifts which we have wasted, of all that we might have done which we did not do?. For me, the conception of hell lies in two words: ?too late.’ ”
Today, why not take stock of your life and ask: what’s my talent? What has God entrusted me to share with the world?
We are not on this earth by accident. We are here for a purpose. God has given us all the talents needed to do all the work he has called us to do.
So don’t plan on retiring anytime soon. Even if you are retired from paid work, never retire from life. Remember: God has given you a gold coin, which is your life. Use it wisely, faithfully and joyfully until you take your dying breath and God says to you in heaven, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.