By Mark E. Haskins
It was true, he was in his late sixties, or maybe even his early seventies, and he was retiring. There were no outward clues as to his age except for the gray hair (still full and thick), the wrinkles of one accustomed to the outdoors, and as one friend noted, the barnacles that had latched on over the years. He could hold his own during the week day with colleagues much younger. He was enthusiastic, energetic, and a consummate pro. He felt it was time, though. No one wants to leave on a downhill trajectory and he wanted to retire on his terms.
At a recent dinner party I asked his wife what he was most looking forward to during his upcoming “retirement years”. I thought I would hear the usual—playing with the grandkids, traveling to places long delayed, or spending more time in the garden. But in her likeably sincere and direct way, she corrected me—these were going to be his “encore years.” What a perfect description. She had nailed it. Indeed, my colleague was a logistics expert and he was going to begin working with some of the world’s most prominent disaster relief agencies, bringing his expertise to bear on their processes and planning. Fantastic! What a great idea and opportunity to make a difference.
For followers of Jesus who see most of our working lives in the rearview mirror and as we begin to notice the “r” word (retirement) on life’s highway signs announcing the upcoming exits, the framing of those years as “encore years” is exactly what God has in mind for us. Through the years, and by His grace, we have been tutored, we have matured, and we now know some of what we didn’t know. And, we have a lot of living yet to offer Him. It is not that our lives prior to the encore years have been merely an off-Broadway version of life—not factoring into what really matters. They do matter. They did matter. Similar to what the Apostle Paul writes, we too, can “speak wisdom…God’s wisdom” (I Corinthians 2, 6&7, ASV) and it is through “experience that we [have acquired the] knowledge of the good and pleasing and complete purpose of God” (Romans 12: 2 BBE). Thus, we stand at the threshold of our encore years with a wealth of “wisdom and experience of the Spirit” (Colossians 1:9, BBE) to bring to bear.
Embarking on the encore years provides a transitional moment to take a bow, recalibrate, and commit to giving it all you got, bringing forth what is most true about who God made you and planted in your heart’s desires. The world needs, God wants, gray-haired, barnacle-covered men and women in His Kingdom. He wants them to sing their best song, dance their best dance, tell their best stories. He wants those with life etched on their faces to radiate their love and passion for Him. Regardless of the world’s calculus about our status, accomplishments, or nest eggs, the encore years are prime time in the Kingdom.
Just as the Broadway star who comes out to the standing ovation of an appreciative audience, we must say, “You are welcome,” to the Lord when He whispers, “Thank you…well done to date,” in our ears. And to our, “You are welcome,” we will find ourselves quickly adding, “Thank you Lord for a life with you and for all that you have shown me about myself and about You. You have been the loving maestro…the patient director….the beautiful music in my ears….you are the masterpiece.” With both reflection and anticipation coursing through our veins, we sense the fuse of desire being lit. The moment is here. He raises the curtain for our encore. He takes our hand. He looks us full in the face saying, “Let’s blow their socks off.” And as Churchill wrote upon becoming Prime Minister with WWII igniting, we too can then say with our encore years in sight, “All my past life has been but a preparation for this hour.”
For me, the encore years are yet a handful of years away. They are, however, in sight. As I look ahead, I pray three things that I want to be true of those years and the years in between:
1. Lord, fuel in me a desire that rises up and is unmistakably from you and for your purposes.
2. Lord, foster in me a humble devotion to be your ambassador, your warrior, your sweet fragrance in this world.
3. Lord, bless me with the presence of others to share the journey through the upcoming encore years.
(quote from The Second World War, Volume 1: The Gathering Storm, 1948)