I knew that my retirement would have some surprises. But the biggest surprise of all is that everybody else in the country seems to be retiring right along with me. My fat Random House Unabridged Dictionary has twelve definitions of retirement, including 1) to withdraw to a place of...shelter... 3) to withdraw from office, business, or active life... and 4) to fall back...from danger..." Who's not into retirement these days?
Of course, the fat dictionary doesn't know everything. Once in a while I pick up some definitions the editors overlooked. So, here's my personal definition thirteen: "retirement is twice the spouse and half the income." The whole country is getting a pretty good idea of what that means.
Even people who are already retired are experiencing a whole new definition of the word. Retired people are discovering that there is "regular" retirement, and now there is "deep" retirement. Of course, I guess there is always "six-feet deep retirement," which is why we are all staying inside in order to avoid.
Many people may not know that I didn't really want to retire. Health issues have forced me into it. I don't have anything terminal... just half a dozen aggravations that are making it harder and harder for me to turn in an honest day's work. Retirement is the moral thing for me to do... not my dream-future.
The big difference between most people and myself, however, is that while I have been planning for my life to change, most of the rest of you have been blindsided by this sudden pandemic "retirement." Granted, this was not exactly the life I had envisioned, but my preparations have helped me going into this time of physical isolation, even though I'm working as hard as ever.
So, I thought this might be a good time to share some of the stuff I've been thinking about now for several years. These writings were supposed to be private and personal: things I needed to think about heading into my own personal retirement. But perhaps they will help others in this odd time. So, here are some thoughts from my personal journal, jotted down over the last several years, ways to get myself ready for "withdrawal" from life as I've known it for almost 50 years:
"I'd like to retire without having to give up anything. I'd like to not give up my standard of living, my stuff, my freedom. I just want to give up having other people tell me what to do. Mostly, I want my retirement to be a time of addition: more time to sleep in, more naps, more travel, more time with my family, more time to read and write, more time to cook good meals, more travel, more time with friends, more freedom...
"...but how is it physically or spiritually possible to add so much to my life without giving up anything? How much of my past can I realistically drag into my tomorrows? I am increasingly sobered by the notion that I can't have a quality retirement if I try to hang on to so much.
I had always thought I'd keep pastoring a church in retirement, but maybe I ought to surrender that notion. I always thought I wanted to continue mentoring new or struggling pastors. But am I ignoring the health warnings that are pushing me into retirement into the first place? I feel like I need to stay active in my conference, keep my name in front of people, so they won't forget my professional accomplishments. But won't that just make me another old fool?
"Didn't Jesus teach us that we need to give up the "self" in order to find the "self?" What is my "self" that I now need to surrender? I suppose that I define my "self" in terms of my appetites, my accumulations, my ambitions, and my angers. I would not be able to recognize myself without these things.
"My appetite (the occasional accomplice to the deadly sins of gluttony and lust) include an appetite for approval from others, an appetite for proving my own strength, an appetite for nostalgia, an appetite for indulging my desires... A happy and healthy retirement means finding a way to also retire most of my appetites, which are almost always these days fake benchmarks of happiness for me. I pray for the wisdom to more and more want what I need...rather than needing what I want...
"It is hard for me to let go of my accumulations, particularly my books. I am not an overly material person ("Lord, I thank thee that I am not like that other person over there...") but I have grown unhealthy in some of my attachments to what I have accumulated. I'm not trying to be some sort of ascetic, but how can I be free if I'm all the time trying to guard and increase my stuff. Stuff isn't the problem, however. It is the fusion of my "stuff" with my sense of security and plenitude. In my retirement, I would like to have less stuff... and value it more... rather than so much stuff that limits my freedom. My true security is in my freedom, not my stuff.
"How can I let go of my ambitions in retirement? They are the fire in my belly...the catalysts in my mind, the secret ingredient to incarnate all the good I feel called to do in this world. How can I let my ambitions go... for the church, for my country, for my family?
But how wise is it to pursue these long entrenched ambitions... now built into an inflexible edifice? My ambitions come from a genuinely holy place inside me, ambitions for a better world, ambitions taking the form of my expanding pastoral work and all those projects I've got going on the side. But my soul and mind and body are now so indebted to those ambitions that I am not free to hear... nor respond... to the voice of the living God for today.
Retirement absolutely must start with a Jubilee Year from all my ambitions. I trust that the Lord will always have something good for me to do in this world. And that good may very well be related to what has driven me in the past. But until I am truly free from ALL that has driven me, I cannot be free to be the person God wants me to be NOW.
"Anger is as much a part of my identity as the nose on my face. How can I ever let go of the anger at the injustices done to my own self and to those I love? How can I be a patriot without the fueling anger that keeps me struggling against those who oppress others and curtail freedoms? Would I not be betraying God if I did not preserve a righteous anger at those who poison politics and religion... and even intimacy?
But one can't truly retire if one still feels compelled by anger to go out and fight every day. Anger that cannot be relinquished for a season inevitably becomes an evil all of its own. God will keep giving me anger. But in retirement, I need to work extra hard to keep giving back to him what I cannot use effectively at the moment."
So then, these are my reflections about being retired. I have had the luxury of giving thought to retirement all these months. I hope maybe some of you will be blessed by borrowing some of these thoughts and making them your own during these wild and weird days... when we have all been involuntarily retired. And I pray along with you for that day when we will all be able to get back to work...
p.s. Enjoy some of my favorite postings below. (I got them from some of you!)