Recently, my wife and I had a deep discussion about working towards some short-term and long-term financial goals to prepare for my inevitable retirement in a few years. I’ll be honest. It was scary. We are not ready for this next stage of life. We need to start making some major progress on these goals in the near future.
As I reflected and prayed about it the next morning on the way to work, I discovered that there are quite a few parallels between this season that we find ourselves in and that of becoming new parents. In looking at some of the similarities and differences, there also seems to be a few theological implications to explore. Perhaps those who are rapidly approaching this unknown vocational chapter as we are might find some words of encouragement here.
Becoming new parents
At first, a young couple enjoys a sweet season of learning how to be married. The next phase for most couples is becoming a parent. Often, it happens before they expected it. One of them is probably more ready than the other. There are quick decisions you need to make: Is our home ready for a baby? Is our car big enough? How are we going to afford all this new stuff we need to care for this child? Who is going to take care of the baby? Will this require a change of employment for one or both? There is so much to learn in a relatively short time. Before they know it, the child arrives, and life is never going to be the same. It sounds daunting, doesn’t it?
Guess what? You figure it out, by the grace of God. You make it up as you go along, just as we did. In His sovereignty, mercy, and goodness, God provides all that you and the baby needs, including the just-in-time parental wisdom to handle every new challenge as it comes up. And then you move seamlessly into the next stage – toddlerhood, followed by many others.
Heading towards retirement
You may be surprised to see several parallels between what new parents go through and those who are about to enter into the uncertain world of retirement.
For the middle-aged couple, there is a sweet season of learning how to be empty-nesters. Unexpectedly, the precipice of retirement sneaks up on you. There are hard decisions that need to be made quickly. Do we stay or relocate? Do we want to downsize our home? What are we going to so with all this stuff? Can we get by with only one car? Are we going to have enough income to live on for another twenty years or so? There is so much to learn, and the clock is ticking. We will be there before we know it, and life will never be the same. It is daunting to think about.
For us, we began our empty nest season ten years ago this week. It has been fun. I blinked twice, and now I find myself one year away from being eligible to retire early. My wife has already closed the chapter on her teaching career a few months ago. She is looking forward to me transitioning to the same status so that we can enjoy life, travel, and see the grandchildren more.
By the grace of God, we figured out the unique challenges that came with each phase of life over the past thirty-eight years. God always provided our needs in the past. Therefore, we believe He will provide what we need for this season also.
Although there are a lot of parallels between moving towards retirement and becoming new parents, there are some distinct differences. These little people that caused us so much stress in the young parenting phase are now adults who can now help us transition into retirement. Where they live becomes a key factor in the equation as we make decisions about where to relocate.
God’s provision of two becoming one
The Christian family begins when the young couple commits themselves to growing older together until death. God makes the two into one. The one-flesh union between a husband and wife in Christian marriage is one of life’s most beautiful things. This brilliant biblical design, a precious gift from our Creator, is something worth focusing on to see some of the theological implications. It should give some rays of hope to those about to enter this unknown territory.
As Adam and Eve’s first meeting is described in Gen. 2:18-25, we see that their relationship serves several important purposes. A man and woman thus joined have the potential to be fruitful and multiply, as the Lord blesses (see Gen. 1:28).
More importantly, their unity allows them to contribute to the expansion of God’s creation as His image-bearers. This holy and permanent joining of two into one not only brings life into the world, but it keeps the couple working together to keep the baby human alive. This cord of three strands, a picture of God in fellowship with the husband and wife, is not quickly broken (Eccl. 4:9-12).
As the family grows in love and number over the years, the oneness of the husband and wife naturally grows as well, as they remain faithful to God and one another. Over decades of such commitment, the couple about to enter into the next phase of life will be able to endure, no matter what comes. This has been our experience. We have seen it in many others as well.
In closing, I trust that these snapshots of entering the challenging seasons of parenthood and retirement were helpful. They are necessary phases of our family vocation. God indeed calls us to them. He designed the family to prepare us to enter them with joy, confidence, and peace. When we reflect on how God has provided for us in the past, we can rest in His goodness in the future.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.