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Now the Serious (from “The Silly and the Serious of Retirement: Part I“)

Sometimes people say, “It must be nice to do nothing.”

Of course it is said light-heartedly and enviously, but it couldn’t be further from the truth:

We are made to “do something” – or more specifically:

We are made in the image and likeness of God to be creative, relate-ive, and productive.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about measuring your life by production units – or as T.S. Elliot put it in his lamenting “Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“:

For I have known… the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…

Today’s equivalent might be “I’ve measured out my life with golf balls” – such is the nature of a life without connection to the One who made us for Himself. Without connection and without purpose, men die quick deaths. Or as William Wallace said in Braveheart:

All men die; few men ever really live.

There’s probably many correlating factors to why men die soon after retirement – but one of them surely must be the heightened sense of uselessness left in the void by doing nothing.

Suddenly men are thrust into in-definition of a life without an occupational identity – – thrust into all that time to think too much and find:

Some have forgotten who they are.

Some have stopped searching long ago.

Some have never started.

While many retirees find their niche, their hobbies-come-obsessions, or their true vocation after all these years, sadly some retirees find nothing that alcohol won’t continually but temporarily numb (excerpts taken from Sobriety.ca):

Alcohol Abuse and the Elderly

One of the humiliating facts about our society today is the lack of sympathy and respect often shown to senior citizens. They are often left alone and unloved by their family members and because of this; alcohol abuse is prevalent among the elderly and is often overlooked.

Senior citizens may have drinking problems because of loneliness and despair, grief over the loss of a loved one, or to cope with the pain from an injury.”

Why alcohol abuse goes unnoticed?

Most often the elderly are not interacting with law enforcement because very few go out to drink at bars or restaurants. The majority drink in isolation in their own homes which consequently prevents them from getting help.

Visiting often, opening up to them, and providing comfort and emotional care will help fill the void in that person’s life that is currently being filled by alcohol consumption.

If not by Drink then by Suicide

Elderly men have the highest suicide rate in Canada: 31/100,000 is triple the number of suicides among people of all ages (2013). (For more information see the Canadian Coalition for Seniors, Mental Health.)

With nothing to live for, nobody to live with, and no life-giving winds to fill one’s sails, living in loneliness becomes unbearable.

Loneliness: Not a Shallow Feature of our social experience:

In his lecture, “The Continent of Loneliness,” James M. Houston says “loneliness is not a shallow feature of our social experience, rather it is constitutional to being human… [but] some forms of loneliness have been intensified by modernity as we find ourselves lonely in a crowd… as we have refined the individualistic techniques of isolating ourselves.”

Loneliness is not unique to retirees, or the elderly; it is, as Houston says, “constitutional to being human.”  But loneliness is exacerbated by the time and opportunity to squander in regret, bitterness, or worthlessness.

We need each other; We need community.

Sarah Knapton reported earlier this year:

Loneliness is deadlier than obesity and should be considered a major public health hazard, the biggest ever review into the problem has suggested.

Researchers in the US looked at 218 studies into the health effects of social isolation and loneliness involving nearly four million people.

They discovered that lonely people had a 50 per cent increased risk of early death, compared to those with good social connections. In contrast, obesity raises the chance of dying before the age of 70 by around 30 per cent.

Lead author Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, Utah, said people should be preparing for retirement socially as well as financially, because for many people the workplace is their biggest source of companionship.

‘Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need—crucial to both well-being and survival,’ she said.

Extreme examples show infants in custodial care who lack human contact fail to thrive and often die, and indeed, social isolation or solitary confinement has been used as a form of punishment.

Yet an increasing portion of the population now experiences isolation regularly.

A Deep and Pervading Sense of Belonging:

Abba, I belong to you.

Brennan Manning prayed this “Abba Prayer” regularly, and wrote about this in what he called “the Abba Experience”:

Define yourself radically as one beloved of God.

This one prayer and this one sentence would summarize the noticeable healing of my identity over the last decade. Of course there’s more to it than this, and the process has been a lot longer, with many contributors; but it is this radical self identification as Abba’s beloved that reveals to me what it means to be a person in Christ. It has been the “re-personalization” by belonging to God the Father in the person of Christ by His Holy Spirit.

Among the many contributors to this revelation have been the mentors, authors, disciplers, friends, and family members of the Church. So many people over the course of so many years have instilled what the Apostle Paul meant when he said that “though we are many, we form one body; in Christ each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). Who I am is best defined by whose I am, and the process of discovering this has been found in the mystery of the body of Christ to help reveal it.

What is your experience of Loneliness & Belonging?