Looking Back and Leaning Forward in Retirement
For nearly 25 years, my life looked like this: raising three children, volunteering in church and community, editing school newsletters, teaching Bible studies, and hanging a whole lotta wallpaper (It was the 70s, remember wallpaper?). I think they called what I did then, ‘staying home’; all I know is that it was the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done.
In my early 40s, our family life began to shift. My kids were in college, with the eldest one married and the younger two getting closer to marriage every day. I attended a day-long retreat that offered interaction with career counselors, and began to dream about possibilities for the second half of life.
I thought about teaching. I began a small floral business in my garage. I talked to God, my husband, my children, and my friends.
And then there was this pastor/friend who gently suggested that I consider enrolling in the fine seminary just five miles down the hill from our home. That idea resonated deep inside me, and I began to ponder what it might mean.
About five years later, I began my life as a seminary student. There I experienced a direct call from God to pursue ordination and work as a member of a church staff. I graduated when I was 48, took an unpaid position for three years while I jumped through hoops for ordination, and then—at 52—began a 14-year commitment as Associate Pastor about 120 miles north of our home in the San Gabriel Valley. My husband and I made the move. He commuted to his own job until we both retired in 2010.
I’m not sure I can find words to describe how difficult it was to make that last transition. Retirement. I loved being a pastor. I had done hard work to become one, and I wasn’t sure what not being a pastor would look like in the community in which we now live. I had only ever been a pastor here; a member of the workforce. No one knew me as a family person, my former primary identity. Who would I be now?
So I did a lot of prayerful listening—listening to the Spirit’s words within me, listening to my family and my friends, to my co-workers, and to the deepest parts of myself.
While I was still working, I began training to become a certified spiritual director. It was during that training that I came to a place of peace about leaving my position at the church. For me, that peace came with the realization that I am a pastor; my ordination is life-long, whether or not I am actually working in a church.
I also began to understand that the kind of work I did as a pastor was the kind of work I had been doing my entire adult life: caring for others, teaching, planning events, writing articles, creating liturgy for public and private worship, encouraging people, identifying and drawing out the gifts of others, researching a wide variety of topics to better understand how human beings are wired. All of this is who I am and how I’m wired. Like the transition I made from mom to student, from student to staff member, from an unpaid to a paid position, this one required that I look at who I am, examine my gifts, and prayerfully ask for new ways to use them.
Now into year four of retirement, my life looks both different from and similar to the lives I’ve lived before. I meet with several people for spiritual direction each month, I write on my blog two or three times a week, and I contribute to several e-zines and a print publication. I also help to care for our two elderly mothers, I see a lot of our kids and grandkids, and I travel with my husband as often as we can.
It’s a good life, one I am grateful for every day. I’m glad I made that last transition when I did—and I find myself wondering what the next one will look like.
Quitting time would be easier if deadlines, insecurity, perfectionism, and expectations disappeared. We could simply lay our pencils down and walk away from the task in peace. Unfortunately, this is not our experience. The urgent trumps the important. The urgent trumps the clock, too. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for God grants sleep to those he loves.” Conceptually appealing, yet realistically challenging when pressure knocks on the door, the wisdom of the Psalmist often fails to change our ways.
This article is part of a series at The High Calling called Pencils Down. Our hope is that in everything, from to-do lists to identity, we will be encouraged to make small advances toward stopping when it’s time to stop.