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A Tribute to Retirement: Not Just What We Do, But How We Do It
Pastor Joe Giacometti ©2005

4/29/2005

My dad is retiring today…sort of. He retired once already about 10 years ago, from his original career with his original employer. Which I found odd, as he would no longer be making a secure salary the same year I would start college. In any case, he worked for 32 years for perhaps the world’s most well known computer corporation. Since he started at a young age, in one of the company’s original locations, he was able to take a thirty year retirement package at a fairly young age as far as retirement goes. But he and most of us knew at that point that wasn’t the end of his run in Corporate America.

After some private consulting, an opportunity arose at a non-profit organization (NPO) in Manhattan, which he took. Over the past eight years, he has fulfilled officer duties at both that and another significant NPO in Manhattan. So now, after some 40 years of corporate employment, commuting, extensive travel, having bosses and being a boss, today, he will step out of his office for the last time and make his final commute home.

I got off the phone with my dad a few minutes ago. I simply wanted to call him early in the day and welcome him to his last day of “work.” He chuckled and appreciated the gesture, and then as we hung up he was back to cleaning out the office. Returning things from his office to some people, giving other things he wouldn’t be needing anymore to others and packing up what he would be taking home with him after the reception they’re having for him at the end of the day. Sounds good… maybe I’ll start the same now! Unfortunately, I have another 35 years to go.

It may sound like I’m bragging a little bit about my dad, and well, maybe I am. I’m proud of my dad. I’m grateful for how God has blessed my father, and my family through my father. I’m thankful for the opportunities and experiences I’ve had through my father’s career; as extravagant as living in a foreign country and traveling the world, and as simple (and underappreciated) as having a college education without years of tuition loan burdening me and my wife. I’m also thankful for his example, and what pondering 40 years of work can teach us.

After I hung up the phone, I was in a daze. I couldn’t stop thinking about what 40 years of work must feel like. What it must feel like to be going through your last day of 40 years of work. Minus weekends and vacation days, that’s approximately 9,840 days of work and this is the last one. Tears welled up…what’s that about? It’s no secret that I’m an emotional guy. This is really that significant. Like most things in life, there are several area’s we can draw from here that might encourage our faith and life. What we do in life is one. How we honor our elders (parents or not), and the significance of their accomplishments is another. And so, that’s what I’ll share with you.

“Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to work we go…” We might not like it, but we have to work. It’s a part of life. It’s one of the things we were created to do. In Genesis 2:5, God realized there was “no man to work the ground.” Within ten verses, the problem was solved; “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (v. 15). It gets worse. Later, in chapter three, when Adam and Eve were being punished for disobeying God, we find that our work will really become a pain in the neck! The food that we work for will bring us pain (3:17-19). Originally this is directed toward our work with the ground that the food comes from, but it has certainly seemed to transfer over into the many areas of work we find ourselves in today. Work can really be a bummer. But it doesn’t always have to be. Over time the “fruits of our labor” (what we can accomplish in our careers) can be purposeful, successful and satisfying.

Forty years! Forty years is a long time. Think about what you could accomplish in forty years! You could have two or three different careers in that time. You could probably initiate a career no one has thought of yet. You could start multiple successful businesses and other profitable ideas in that time. You could become a well established politician or even the President. You could become a well known author or screenwriter, musician or artist. Are your imaginations running yet? What do you think you could become in forty years?

Of course we think of the glamorous things right away and that’s ok. But the reality is, most of us won’t become any of the above. The glamorous stuff is always in the minority. More than likely, most of us will be teachers or business people; little known scientists and local journalists; obscure artists or musicians; employee’s or volunteers of various ministries or even pastors.

Please notice in any of these more common careers, I never said average, ordinary or unimportant. The odds are against us being well known to begin with. Amongst six billion people worldwide, we’ll ever really come into regular contact with a fraction of a percent of them. Those are the people we make our mark with. Even though our career network will be relatively small, that doesn’t mean our impact will be. With forty years, even the reaches of the networks we’ve been in will stretch larger than our imagination.

My father is a people person. A majority of his working years have been spent in human resources. This is the field that takes care of the people of the organization. There are certainly difficult aspects to this area of work. It does involve letting people know when they’re wrong, and even firing people. But it is at the core, assisting people through problems and assuring their well being while a part of the given organization. It involves encouraging and affirming as well. Think of just one person my dad might have had a positive impact on thirty-five years ago. Now think about all the people that person has come into contact with over the course of thirty five years. The indirect contact and effect of playing a positive or helpful role in a person’s life becomes exponentially important.

You don’t have to work in just human resources for your efforts and attitudes to affect people. Most corporations are in business for the benefit of large numbers of people. In addition, you’ll be working with people in some way your whole life. Often this can be challenging, but it is important. It’s what we were made for. Our attitudes and action’s toward people will forever be the most important thing about what we do in life, no matter what.

God made us “people,” which clues us in right away that “people” are important and how we treat them even more so. Genesis 1:26, 27 tells us we are made in God’s image, which gives us an idea of our worth. Matt. 22:39 says we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. 1 John 4:1 and 19 tells us to love others in God’s example, and that if we say we love God and don’t love others we are liars. I get the feeling that other people and our actions toward them are pretty important.

In addition to the people we will encounter over the course of our career, the things we seek to accomplish and what we do to accomplish them are also very important. In forty years, a lot could be done to make the world a better place. Figure out what your strengths are, what your passion is for, and find a company or organization where you can combine the two to help make the world a better place. Even if you find yourself flipping burgers (which is serving people), sorting mail or keeping track of finances for a large, non-humanitarian corporation, remember, your attitude and demeanor for those jobs still goes a long way. We are encouraged of this in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father.”

Now, forget about what you want to do in life for a minute. Think about what others around you have done or are doing. Maybe a grandparent has retired recently, or a parent will be soon, depending on the timing of your birth. THANK THEM for what they’ve done. Celebrate their decades of work in some way. Even if you don’t think they necessarily did it for God’s glory, work needs to get done, and people do it every day. Most likely you and your family was the reason someone dragged themselves to a job they didn’t like every day. Even if they did love it, they did it to support you in some way. Maybe the people you’re thinking of are only half way through their career and have another twenty years to go. Thank them for what they’ve done and what they’ll do. Make them feel your appreciation for what they are doing, remembering again, that much of it is to support you and keep you alive.

I wasn’t nearly this emotional ten years ago for my father’s initial retirement. Probably a little because we figured he’d be working again. But most certainly also because I just didn’t understand the significance of it. After all, I was still essentially a “high schooler” then. No offense to many of you reading this, but that’s why I wrote this, to help you understand a bit more the significance of a career, what you do in it, and it’s relation to life in general.

I’ll get my dad some simple things to help celebrate; a card, some balloon’s, gift cards for him to use in his soon to be abundant spare time. I can’t afford much more, unfortunately. Let’s face it, I’m a pastor and will unlikely ever be able to repay my father for his support (at least monetarily). But I can be respectful of his certain attitude that I don’t “owe” him anything. I can show him my gratitude for his hard work to support my mother and me for all these years. I can show him my appreciation by happily giving him all the time he wants from me now that he’ll be free most everyday (after all, we live in the same town)!

What I and hopefully you can certainly take away is the example, the example of working hard for a good cause, or at least working hard just because it counts. Even if what you’re working for is nominal, your attitude speaks volumes about your passion for life and people, your faith and countless other things to your colleagues and peers who witness it (and have to bear it); the example of setting goals to achieve something over your 40 years of working; the example of balancing family priorities with your career, and making sure your family sees you, knows who you are, and that you’re involved in their lives, no matter how “important” what you’re doing is or how “significant” you are at work. The fact of the matter is, you always will be and need to be more significant to your family, even if you’re the President, or dare I say it, a pastor.

So, in closing, I say, “Thanks Dad. Thanks for giving me something to write about. Thanks for being an example to me, and to those through me who read this. I pray that we may all be encouraged to be an example to those younger than us through our lives and what we do in them. I love you, and am very much looking forward to your retirement.”