Like countless men and women before me I am coping with retirement – or dealing with it, or coming to grips with it, or adjusting to it. I’m not really sure. It’s new country to me. After 46 years, working six days a week in a profession I enjoyed immensely, I am suddenly without function, without purpose – somewhere to go every day, staff issues to resolve, people to advise comfort or direct, messages to preach. I am a man suffering withdrawal.
Actually, that’s one of the dictionary definitions of retirement: ‘Retire (intransitive verb) To withdraw from one’s occupation, business or office.’ Except I didn’t withdraw. The United Methodist Church has a mandatory age limitation that states unequivocally, and arbitrarily, that ordained clergy must retire upon reaching age seventy-two.
It’s not as though I haven’t had plenty of time to prepare myself emotionally and intellectually for this inevitable event. I knew it was coming and I made adequate plans to ensure a smooth and trouble-free transition. On our final Sunday, the emotional, tearful, kind words and best wishes from friends to whom I had ministered these past sixteen years touched the hearts of myself and my beloved Lisa – and it was at that point that we knew it was real. This was the end of something important and precious; the beginning of something – scary – I suppose is the best word.
“Oh,” friends and colleagues say, “these will be the best years of your life. No cares, no meetings, no budgets – and most of all, no responsibilities! Why, you can play golf every day!” The very thought is anathema to me. Transitioning from a meaningful and committed ministry to what to me would be a mindless day on the links is exceedingly depressing.
I realize that it’s time to be positive about retirement. I suppose there are two attitudes one can adopt about this transition. This first is expressed by Ernest Hemingway who wrote quite succinctly, “Retirement is the ugliest word in the language.” And one cannot help but agree with him. But the second attitude expressed by Ken Dychtwald, president of the consulting firm ‘Age Wave’ and author of many books on baby boomers and aging, adds a more positive spin, “Retirement as we know it, he writes, is dead. It’s no longer an end, it’s a turning point. A chance to take a break and then reinvent yourself.” Or, from a different age and in a more lyrical fashion, the words of Shakespeare in As You Like It. “Our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything.” Shakespeare wasn’t addressing retirement as such, but the intent is the same.
Good friends of mine, aware of my retirement struggle, recently presented me with a plaque which is now on my office wall. The message on the plaque, writ large by Neale Donald Walsch, reads: “Life begins as the end of your comfort zone.” Really? After thinking about this statement for a while, I came to the realization that the statement is true and that I have indeed been handed an opportunity.
The realization? I need to retire to something, not from something. I have been blessed with many gifts and graces that can be used creatively and constructively. I need to appreciate the freedom I now have and decide how best to use it. There are many opportunities to serve my community, many opportunities to pursue creative endeavors, and, plenty of time to do these things.
Well I guess I am on my way, unsteadily, hesitantly, but I am moving forward, and with God’s help a new career, or careers, beckon. Stay tuned.