Having a vocation, in response to God’s call, is not just for the young. Here’s how to find yours.

When that wonderful era of life after fulltime work arrives what should be its focus? Vacation or vocation? Two almost identical words yet with very different meanings. And why should it matter?

One – ‘vacation’ – points to a season when the focus is on ourselves. Take a break – a long one. Put ourselves first most of the time. Enjoy what we ‘deserve’.

The other – ‘vocation’ – points to what God calls us to. The word ‘vocation’ even comes from the Latin root vox, meaning ‘voice’ – giving it the sense of ‘what has called us to’.

It’s a stark difference that Jeff Haanen points to in his masterly book ‘An Uncommon Guide to Retirement’. And he brings the challenge not to fall for a ‘me centred’ retirement but to pursue the fulfilment and significance that comes from identifying and living out what God calls us to do in this season of opportunity.

When it comes to the issue of our ‘calling/vocation’ Jeff warns of the danger of falling for any of the four myths that seem to prevail. He says –

1. It’s wrong to believe ‘my calling is to do what I love’. That may be true for some, but for some it may be a call to suffer – just as Moses was called from the tranquillity of herding sheep to confront Pharaoh and demand the freedom of his people.

To quote Jeff, ‘The biblical view of calling speaks to a much deeper satisfaction of following God in every circumstance, come what may.’

2. It’s wrong to believe ‘calling means getting my ideal job’. As Jeff says, ‘The “ideal job” ethos is actually elitist because it undermines work that is not done out of “passion”’ – which, of course, is true for most people.

To quote Jeff again, ‘The road to deep freedom in retirement is found not in self-actualisation (fulfilment of one’s talents and potentialities) but in self-surrender’.

3. It’s wrong to believe ‘calling is a life-stage’. There’s no biblical support for splitting life into the three stages of calling: 1. Youth and education. 2. Career. 3. Retirement. More than that, Jeff asserts, with people now living longer and healthier, ‘lives, relationships, and work will become more fluid’.

4. It’s wrong to believe ‘conversations about calling are just for 20 year olds’. In his experience, Jeff has found ‘the second most common time people ask deeper questions about purpose, job choice and meaning’ is in their later years.

So if that’s the myths kicked into touch, how can we best hear God’s voice and be clear of our calling in this afterwork stage of life?

It’s not all about checking what skills you have stresses Jeff but, rather, where you fit in to God’s purposes and plans. And about what should change from your working life and what should stay the same.

The way forward, Jeff proposes, is to gather trusted friends and family to explore the following questions.

1. What is God doing in the world today that captures your imagination

What’s good out there that you want to get behind? When need presses your button? What’s broken that could be fixed or is missing and waiting being created?

2. Who are you?

Understanding yourself is a big part of figuring out your calling. If you’d like to use a helpful ‘vocational power assessment’ tool here’s a link. The idea behind it is that we each have more ‘power’ than we are aware of.

3. What stage of life you are in

Older adulthood – active retirement – is the season of letting go in order to bless and offer wisdom to the coming generation, asserts Jeff. It’s a move from player to coach.

4. What are your circumstances?

The call is for ‘reality in a hope-filled way’ says Jeff. Take time to make an inventory of your income, relationships, interests, talents, limitations and opportunities. Because this is the context in which to identify and can carry out your calling.

Jeff helpfully points out that Jesus chose not to do ‘everything’. There were those he healed and thousands he didn’t; towns he visited and others he didn’t. Because of his calling he was able to say ‘no’ and that will serve us too.

5. What’s the cross you’ve been called to bear?

What have been the life experiences that have shaped and formed you? Especially those seasons of deep pain. With God, nothing is wasted and it is these things that give you wisdom and insights that are of value to others.

6. What are you afraid of?

This is a surprising question but, to Jeff, one not to be shunned. Fears of death, loneliness, becoming irrelevant, failing health, not having enough money – and more – can all serve to paralyse us.

‘Name them’, says Jeff. ‘Offer them to God and hear him say ‘Don’t be afraid for I am with you to the very end of the age’. Isa 41.10 Matt 28.16-20

To be honest, what you’ve just read only skims the surface of the rich thinking on calling and vocation in Jeff Haanen’s excellent book ‘An Uncommon Guide to Retirement’. And there’s much more there to enrich and encourage you in your after work years

You’ll also find more on how God can use these years on the AfterWorkNet website page Opportunities.

What thoughts or questions has this generated for you? Please share them here or on the AfterWorkNet Facebook community

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  1. I volunteered at our local hospice. I was helping on a day ward for patients coming in from the community. The idea was to make friends and give them a nice day out. After a few years I became part of the chaplaincy group and have been there now for 18 years though everything is on hold just now. This is one of the best things I have ever done and I’m so grateful that God led me there.

  2. There seems to be some contradiction between the wrongness of the myths and the rightness of the questions eg myth1. doing what you love – bad and question 1. what fires your imagination – good. Uh!!! And others. Not helpful.

  3. Love these thoughts. My husband and I are just about to take up volunteer work at a christian retreat home. We hope to serve God by helping in the kitchens and house. Praying God will give us His strength and ability to be useful here as we are in our 60’s. Love reading these posts. So encouraging.

  4. I agree with Ian. I’m aiming to ‘have a heart to serve and serve where my heart is’. You can’t claim ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength’ if you are enduring rather than enjoying.
    For the first 5 years of retirement I volunteered in a furniture redistribution scheme and now that is becoming physically too much, I am retraining as a money mentor for a debt advice charity. The key for me is I’M LOVING IT!

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The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife