Designed to Work: The Work of Retirement

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There are seasons in life, I am learning. And sometimes the rougher seasons are the very ones in which the work we do can be a source of inspiration and solace, a place of ministry and renewal.

The six-year stretch between 2005 and 2010 was a tough one for us. At times, it felt as though my family was riding a dangerously out-of-control roller coaster, careening from side to side, tilting on one very narrow edge as we rounded some treacherous turns and corners.

Here are a few "highlights" from that season:

My dad died in February of 2005, leaving my mom both exhausted from care-giving and desperately lonely for her partner.

My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer two months later, enduring painful and debilitating surgery and a long, rocky recovery.

Our son-in-law was applying for long-term disability, literally fading away before our eyes. His wife, our eldest daughter, was beginning an intensive 12-month master’s degree program in special ed—after almost 20 years of being an at-home mom. Their three boys were struggling to find their bearings in this new universe.

Our middle daughter’s third boy was born in distress, tiny and in the NICU for five days.

Our daughter-in-law needed a slightly dicey C-section for her first-born, just weeks after her cousin’s difficult entry into the world.

Our son-in-law entered the last year of his life with multiple hospitalizations, and a miraculous six-month respite, giving us all some memories that were lovely and lasting. That year, 2008, ended with a devastating pneumonia that took his life in a matter of hours.

My youngest brother landed in the ER with a severe leg infection, requiring a long list of care-giving efforts from all of us.This began a hard, downward spiral of missed diagnoses, homelessness, sober living residences, heart surgery and eventually, sudden death in 2009.

The very next month, our beautiful town was hit by the first of two wildfires requiring evacuation from home and church, plunging our worshiping community into emergency mode for months on end.

As I said, it was a difficult few years.

And every week, except for vacations and emergencies, I went to work. Many people wondered why: why do you want to step into other people’s difficult situations? Why do you want to visit the sick? Why? Haven’t you got enough on your plate already?

I don’t know that I can fully answer those questions, but I will try to write a coherent list of possible reasons here:

work grounded me;
work reminded me I was not alone;
work taught me about community;
work provided an external focus;
work brought at least the illusion of order to my terribly disordered world;
work brought relief from the weight of worry that was a constant companion;
work allowed me to stay in touch with the creative parts of me as well as the care-giving parts;
work gave me a different place to look,
a different place to reflect,
a different space in which to be me—
the me that was called and gifted and capable.
As opposed to the me that was helpless, impotent and overwhelmed.

My life was spinning frantically out of control,
at least out of my control,
heading down deep and dark crevasses that terrified me.
Work was more easily containable,
expectations were clear,
contributions were valued.
Work was grace for me during that long,
long stretch of Job-like living.

Work was a gift,
a gift of God to a weary and worried woman.
And it brought me into contact with people
who could bear me up,
who could tend my gaping wounds,
who could be as Jesus to me,
even as I tried to be as Jesus to those
I loved most in this world.

I did not do any of it perfectly. Lord knows, that isn’t even possible and it surely wasn’t true.

The end of 2010 brought the end of my official work life. I have missed it at times. But I am discovering that even in the different structure, schedule and, yes, "work" of retirement, God is underneath. And around and in between. Just as God has always been. And somehow by the grace and goodness of God, we are still here, clinging to the sides of that coaster car, doing our very best to enjoy the ride.


Diana Trautwein lives on the central California coast with her husband of nearly 50 years as a retired pastor, spiritual director, and writer. Together they enjoy 'working' while in retirement, traveling, and encouraging their eight grandchildren, ages 4-23. Read more by Diana here. Diana submitted this story as a part of our community linkup, Designed to Work. This article first appeared on her blog.