Not too long ago I was having dinner with a group of work colleagues. The talk at the table involved many topics but
at some point everyone began sharing their thoughts and plans for retirement. What struck me was the language they used. They talked about what they were doing now to save money in the “short-term” to prepare for the “long-term.” Many of them were putting a great deal of effort – sacrificing, or perhaps better said, compromising, their time with loved ones and not taking care of themselves physically (or spiritually) as they should – in order to work hard to generate the income needed to enjoy a lengthy retirement. This caused me to start thinking about the fallacy of what we commonly think of as short and long-term planning.
I wrote the following in my book, Sacramental Living: Understanding Christianity as a Way of Life:
“It is an empirical fact that we know we will die. Further, we know when we die, we leave behind all of our material goods – homes, cars, clothes, computers, and other objects. As the Bible states: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out” (1 Timothy 6:7). Our bodies either go into the ground, are cremated or our subject to other death rituals. Eventually even our bodies disintegrate over time or are destroyed. That brings us to a few possibilities of which I will simplify into two basic ones. One is that the death of the body is the end of life – period. We live, we die and we cease to exist. But another possibility is that something of us lives on which would be our soul that contains our spirit and our character.”
I have often thought that unless you are someone who truly believes there is no possibility of an afterlife, and that you simply cease to exist at death, than putting so much time and effort into work, driven by the goal of retirement and at the expense of spending time with your children and taking care of your health, doesn’t make sense. These people I was listening to were very intelligent people, yet I questioned the wisdom of their thinking. I am planning for retirement myself and I do work hard to generate the money I need today and for the future. But here is the difference. I don’t consider my preparation for the future to be long-term planning. I consider it to be extended short-term planning.
I am planning for a twenty or, God willing, thirty plus year period of my life. But this planning has nothing to do with eternity. My true long term planning has to do with my investment of time and energy into my daily morning prayer, my attending Church, my orienting, to the best of my ability, my total person to God and putting my relationship with Him as my first priority. What I have found is that the other areas of my life fall into place with this primary focus on Him. It’s not that every tough situation magically works out because I focus on God. Rather, I experience the peace Christ promised when He said “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27). My experience of the other aspects of my life falling into place is not that they actually work out so neatly according to what I would prefer; it’s that I more often than not experience Christ’s peace whether they work out that way or not.
But more important than the peace Christ gives me in the present, is the preparation I am doing for the future. I will leave this life and everything in it at some point. There is no disputing this fact. The only thing I will take with me is me – my soul, spirit, who I am in my being. Christ promises us eternal life through Himself. That’s the goal of true long term planning, not luxury or ease for a twenty to thirty year plus period. Christ warns us of this type of false thinking in The Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21. It makes so much sense to me to focus on that goal as the first priority, and do everything Christ taught us to do sacramentally in support of that goal. The other goals are fine but only in the right priority order. When they are out of order, ironically, all of the effort we put into what we call long-term planning, can actually cause us more stress even though we are trying to ensure we don’t have stress later in life. We fret over the ups and downs of the market and how it affects our retirement, lose focus on the present by obsessing over the future, and fall into worry and anxiety.
I will end this brief blog with a reminder of something Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount that you have doubtless heard many times but it bears repeating in this context.
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:31-33).