“Keeping busy?” is the question that retired people get asked. Perhaps the person asking the question reckons that a retired person has nothing left to live for, apart from filling the void left by the ‘busyness’ which has been taken from them through retirement.
The question is loaded with anxiety. The person asking it may be worrying about their own impending retirement and the spectre of idleness which it raises. It also leads into far deeper questions pertaining to the meaning of life itself.
We do not live, in the fullest sense, by keeping busy. Neither, for that matter, are we truly rich when we have simply made a lot of money or acquired power or status during the course of our professional lives. Money and status are only of use in this lifetime, in any case, and there is still that part of us that achievements and attributes fail to satisfy, or ‘reach’.
Retirement focuses this truth, which until now was only vaguely apprehended, into reality. Left to ourselves, we are faced not so much with the past (although the past is significant in shaping our thoughts about the present) as with the present moment and with the increasingly relevant idea of eternity. Unlike life as we know it now, eternity has no future. It is an eternal present moment. Having to be still and resist the need to be busy allows us a glimpse of eternity, of a sense of the brevity of our lives and of the significance of the present moment.
Being still and contemplating eternity places our life in a wider dimension. It gives a life greater significance, rather than less. It also begs two further questions; will we be wealthy in the only way that matters in this eternal dimension? In other words, will we have lived richly towards God? And will we have lived gratefully?
Living richly towards God means allowing every present moment to become our whole life, to live it fully and gratefully, however insignificant it may seem. The mystery and beauty of eternity is composed of all the seemingly insignificant moments that have been fully lived, lived with integrity, beauty, courage, generosity and humour.
So the question we are faced with when it comes to keeping busy is whether or not we are living, in the fullest sense of the word. And were we really living when we were busy working? The creative ‘rush’ that makes for fulfilling work is of a piece with the energy of a creating God, a God who is still creating. This energy is what makes the ‘rush’ of creativity endure, or ‘bear fruit’ into our later years.
Part of being creative involves enabling the creativity of others, of colleagues, friends and family. It also involves gratitude. Gratitude only really begins when we meet the creator God at the deepest level of our being. Gratitude restores creativity. It also gives us permission to be grateful for being who we are. Retirement is not just a matter of getting through another empty day by keeping busy. Each day is the beginning of a whole new phase of creative living. It is the beginning of eternity.