Ministers—as do others—often approach retirement with a sense of foreboding. Loathe to admit how they really feel about severing the associations and involvements that ministry affords, they assume a brave front, draw a deep breath, and vaguely mutter, "Well, it'll be good to get away from it all."
Really? Will retirement be that good or easy? Can one, with a wave of the hand, dismiss the activity and routine that kept him happily occupied for forty years or more? Armchair analysts, not yet re tired, may offer all sorts of counsel. However, in this article I intend to pass along some reflections born of my own experience since retiring.
The minister who has not planned for his ultimate transfer from the pulpit to the pew, may find retirement day a time of inner trauma and turbulence instead of the moment of carefree release he anticipated. Picture him seeing his name removed from the church bulletin, directory, or administrative office. For years his was the name prominently dis played, but now another fills the space. Suddenly he no longer occupies the center of the stage. His former associates, by the very nature of things, now rush past him to line up with the new dynasty. Believe me, much of God's grace is required to accommodate.
In addition, he becomes soberingly aware that retirement is associated with old age. All around the prospective retiree, spry spirits bounce from one task to another with consummate ease, while he, by reason of age, drags from one assignment to another. Once he was at the front, felling Goliaths right and left, now he finds it a chore to keep up with the rear guard.
Compounding his misgivings are well-meaning souls who, in eulogizing the soon-to-be-departed, go to great lengths in calming fears by solemnly intoning: "My dear brother, you have earned this well-deserved rest."
Rest? Rest vividly recalls to his mind a graveside committal and is the last thing he should hear!
Any normal, healthy retiree cannot shed his former life style the moment he receives his first retirement benefits. Much like the long-distance runner who, after completing a strenuous race, runs an additional lap or two to adjust his body to the slower pace, the active minister also needs to taper off gradually. All his accumulated skills and experiences are still a part of him, retirement notwithstanding. His body may now be in low gear, but his mind is still spinning in high.
Consequently, merely to sit and rest, doing nothing, and dreaming only of past glories, is to invite a progressive paralysis that will eventually destroy. He should (and must) retire from a specific job responsibility, but never from the demands that life, at a slower pace, makes upon his ministerial gifts and ability. Drawing upon his rich experience, he is splendidly equipped still to preach, teach, write, and counsel in matters related to the kingdom of God. As such, he is of inestimable value to any pastor, church, and community.
Although retired, I do not consider myself an authority on the subject; nevertheless, I will attempt to set forth some suggestions designed to help others avoid the retirement blahs and the enervating daydreaming that unplanned idleness inevitably induces.
To begin with, rather than dreading retirement, try to continue planning ahead. Keep in mind that the Lord may have another 15 or 20 years in store for you after retirement date. In some cases this could mean a quarter of a lifetime. Should not this providential span of life receive that same careful thought and attention afforded to prior years?
Remember, too, that countless others have made this transition successfully. Talk to such people. Obtain their view points. Read the abundant material available on the subject. But in the final analysis, you alone must decide when, where, and how you will spend your retirement years. Tastes differ, and someone else's preference may not suit you. So plan, read, and listen, but make up your own mind.
Upon retiring adopt a flexible program that keeps you usefully occupied with such items as devotions, reading, writing, listening to good music, or puttering around with hobbies. Working in a gar den is a marvelous sedative, especially for that afternoon nap. In addition, a small workshop can make a wonderful change of pace for one whose former work was largely sedentary.
By all means keep in the best physical shape possible. Walk, jog, hike, swim, cut wood—anything that will keep you from degenerating into an immobile mass. Eat judiciously and avoid junk food. But don't worry about aging. After all, everyone is aging along with you, and worrying about it will not add or detract one day from your life. Instead of worrying how long life will last, concentrate on making each day the very best it can be.
Dress neatly. Avoid sloppiness in appearance or speech as you would the plague. As far as humanly possible at this time of life make yourself attractive and friendly to all. You stand for some thing grand, and your sunset years should reflect everything grand in Christ.
Of course, you will have the choice of establishing your membership in a large or small church. The larger church may be less demanding of your time and service, but the small church would likely consider it a Godsend if you settled in their midst. Either way, be con tent to sit back and listen to someone else expound the gospel. It isn't easy for one who has spent years preaching to others, but by God's grace you can cultivate the art of listening constructively. The preacher's style and emphasis may not be yours, but listening to him is good for your ministerial soul.
Certainly, once retired, you should not expect the brethren to include you in the order of service every time you come to church. If occasionally they do, well and good. But do not go home with bruised feelings because you are not on the rostrum as often as you used to be. Be satisfied to serve whenever asked, and refrain from admonishing the brethren how things were done in your day. The latter practice is about as popular as the woman 'who delights in recounting her many medical operations. Neither should you feel slighted because now you are no longer ushered to the head of the line at the church potluck dinner. Adjusting graciously to these inevitable changes not only is good for one's soul but also immensely good for one's peace of mind.
Now that one is no longer at or near the top of the ecclesiastical mountain, he can, in retirement, faithfully till the soil at the base. In the valleys of life, untouched by organized religion, are the lonely, the sick, the discouraged all in need of the gospel. Retirement affords you the opportunity of becoming acquainted with such in your neighbor hood. Your friendliness, concern, and compassion will be as rays of heavenly light to these neighbors. One can only conjecture the impact on the gospel's progress if all retired gospel workers viewed retirement as a spiritual challenge, rather than as a relaxed way of slipping into oblivion.
Finally, live joyfully with your spouse. She shared your years in the ministry, often spending lonely hours while you were on the King's business. In retirement, renew your togetherness in Christ. Demonstrate tenderness, love, sympathy, and understanding to each other as the years slip by. Do some of the things that the pressures of life ruled out in the past. Eat out occasionally. Visit art galleries, museums, and national parks together. If the budget permits, travel. Continue the early attentions. And besides all that, spend some time with the children and grandchildren. If you will, you can rejoice together, pray together, worship together, and serve together as long as life lasts.
Retire if you must, but keep on living!